Airbus Defence & Space is in fresh discussions with the launch customers for its A400M, with the goal of agreeing a renewed contract by early next year amending the transport’s delivery schedule and also the timeline for introducing its tactical capabilities.

Talks with Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK are under way via Europe’s OCCAR defence procurement agency – and also directly with the type's existing operators but Airbus Defence & Space A400M programme head, Kurt Rossner, says none of the nations have requested any change in the number of aircraft to be produced. Their combined commitment is for 170 transports, with another four ordered for export customer Malaysia.

Speaking at the company’s final assembly site in Seville, Spain late last month, Rossner said: “We have promised by next year to dramatically upgrade and improve [the aircraft’s capabilities]".

Some 15 A400Ms are in operational service, with the air forces of France (7), Germany (1), Malaysia (1), Turkey (2) and the UK (4). Five aircraft were delivered during the first nine months of 2015, Airbus says, but this should increase to between 13 and 17 by year-end, depending on the successful outcome of flight-testing and the progress of contractual discussions.

“The customer relationship was one area where we had to improve,” Rossner says, adding: “the customer is very happy now to use this aircraft.”

The current operator nations had flown a combined 4,510h in more than 1,100 flights by the end of September, with launch operator the French air force accounting for more than 2,700 flight hours and the UK Royal Air Force over 1,000h. Head of transport aircraft services Stephan Miegel says the air forces have reported an overall “mission success rate” of 91% so far with the type.

RAF A400M RIAT 2015 - Craig Hoyle Flightglobal

Craig Hoyle/Flightglobal

In a third-quarter earnings statement issued on 30 October, Airbus said: “The focus remains on A400M programme execution, and addressing the challenges of military capabilities and the industrial ramp-up.”

Flight-test objectives remain on expanding the tactical capabilities of the Atlas, Rossner says, with expanding this area to be the key target for 2016. “The biggest step we are facing next year is the DAS [defensive aids system],” he notes. Other requirements include resolving an airdrop issue, after a risk of paratroops “crossing” behind the aircraft after jumping from its side doors was identified, and also the completion of work to clear the Atlas to receive fuel in-flight.

However the company has for now dropped plans to promote the A400M as capable of refuelling helicopters in-flight, with head of flight tests and operations Eric Isorce describing this as “nearly impossible”, due to the vortex generated from the transport’s wing.

Meanwhile, the head of Airbus Defence & Space’s Military Aircraft unit, Fernando Alonso, notes: “Even if we are having difficulties with industrialising the aeroplane and with developing all of the capabilities that we have to deliver to the nations, we are lucky because we have a fantastic platform.”

The company has now stabilised the industrial build-up process, and performed a “clean-up” on its plan to develop and introduce new capabilities – Alonso describes the latter as having previously been “ambiguous”. He notes: “there are some discrete areas where we have problems, and we are tackling them one after the other.”

Alonso has set a conservative target for the receipt of the next export order for the A400M. The company could potentially take another two years to add to its current production target, he believes.

“I am confident that within the next 24 months we will start getting contracts with other nations,” he says. The company is in discussions with several nations about their potential tactical airlift requirements, but declines to name its potential future customers.

Source: Flight International