Airbus Defence & Space delivered its first A400M of the new year on 12 January, taking its total output of Atlas tactical transports to 56 units so far.

Its most recent delivery was the German air force's 15th A400M – service registration 54+16 (MSN64) – from a total commitment for 53 of the four-engined type.

German A400M - Airbus Defence & Space

Airbus Defence & Space

Germany has the second-largest active fleet of A400Ms, behind the UK Royal Air Force – which has now received 18 examples, from an eventual total of 22. France has taken delivery of 13, with another 37 on order. Additional recipients include Spain (2), Turkey (4) and export customer Malaysia, which has already completed its four-strong fleet of the type.

Airbus Defence & Space confirms that a total of 19 A400Ms were handed over in 2017 – its highest annual output for the Atlas since deliveries began in late 2013. The company's order backlog for the airlifter now stands at 118 aircraft, to be delivered to the current European operators, plus fellow programme partners Belgium and Luxembourg. It also continues to market the type to a range of potential export customers.

Recent programme highlights have included a "Grizzly" test aircraft providing in-flight refuelling support for six Spanish air force Boeing F/A-18 fighters during a test conducted on 13 December 2017. Airbus Defence & Space says 11.4t of fuel was transferred on the mission, from the A400M's under-wing hose and drogue refuelling pods, and its centre hose refuelling unit.

A400M refuelling - Airbus Defence & Space

Airbus Defence & Space

"Certification authorities on board confirmed good results and the flight validated the A400M two-crew cockpit concept for tanker missions," the company says.

The UK also late last year concluded a series of flight trials to assess the A400M's ability to participate in maritime rescue operations. The activity involved deploying specialist rescue apparatus including container-housed inflatable life-rafts and survival equipment from the transport's rear cargo ramp by parachute.

"The trials successfully demonstrated the ability of the A400M to safely deploy air-sea rescue apparatus and conduct long-range air-sea rescue operations," says the UK's Defence Equipment & Support agency.