Airbus Group chief executive Tom Enders says the company is making progress in negotiations with users of the A400M, while propulsion system supplier Europrop International (EPI) has released further details of its essential "Pack 2" update.
“We are having negotiations with the nations, as we said we would," Enders commented during an investor meeting in Paris on 21 June. "These discussions are under way, but are not necessarily helped by so many elections everywhere. We never expected that this was a walk in the park, [but] overall I am optimistic that we are making progress.”
He notes that the A400M's customers and user air forces “really want the aircraft” and “understand its potential”, while the type's military capabilities are “growing step by step”.
“The aircraft is now really in use – not only as a strategic airlifter, but also in tactical use on the battlefield with an initial self-defence capability and other features,” he says.
Airbus has delivered seven A400Ms so far this year – for a programme total of 45 – and Enders confirms that it is aiming to increase this to “around 20” during 2017, although "we will see where we get".
Summarising the Atlas programme's status, Enders says: “We still have a little way to go.” Airbus is “making progress” on improving the reliability of the aircraft, and the immediate crisis related to a propeller gearbox (PGB) issue affecting some TP400-D6 engines “has been solved”, with fixes introduced to the fleet.
“The operational availability of this aircraft goes up,” he says, but there are “still a couple of updates ahead of us”.
EPI says a "truncated plug solution" developed as an interim fix for a cracking issue identified on the TP400's PGB was certified in July 2016, and retrofit of in-service aircraft started shortly after. "Since early 2017 the truncated plug has been installed on all production aircraft coming out of the FAL [final assembly line]," it says.
Simultaneous work to develop the permanent Pack 2 fix is progressing, according to EPI, which says certification at the aircraft level is expected during the third quarter of this year. "Embodiment in the production line will be effective" after this point.
"Pack 2 mainly consists of a number of modifications to reduce vibration levels, and will reinforce endurance and reliability of the PGB," EPI says. Because the A400M uses a "handed" configuration for the type's four TP400 turboprops, the fix is required only on right-hand PGBs, it notes.
EPI – a consortium of the European engine companies ITP, MTU Aero Engines, Rolls-Royce and Safran Aircraft Engines – notes that it is also acting "to ensure industrial and in-service support readiness, and to enable finalisation of an integrated plan for implementation".
Additional reporting by Dominic Perry in London