Three factors could sway the US Air Force within five years to buy the Airbus Military A400M transport, believes EADS North America chief executive Sean O'Keefe

The A400M, which achieved a first flight in December, could fill an anticipated airlift gap created by a wave of Lockheed Martin C-5A retirements, Boeing C-17 programme termination and Lockheed C-130J size and performance limitations, O'Keefe says.

A400M lands - CH 
© Craig Hoyle/Flight International 
The A400M achieved its first flight in December

EADS anticipates that the A400M would be the USAF's only option to address the gap, which could occur slightly before the middle of the next decade, he says.

EADS analysts have identified the three factors based on an internal assessment. The company has not shared its findings with the USAF, nor discussed plans with service officials for an A400M acquisition, O'Keefe says.

The EADS assessment conflicts with USAF plans to continue buying C-130Js and flying all 59 C-5As, although the latter were removed from the reliability enhancement and re-engining programme (RERP) in 2008 to save money.

The USAF has attempted to shut the C-17 production line every year since 2007, but Congress has added funds to buy 33 more airlifters beyond the USAF's stated requirement. Congress is debating conflicting proposals to add between three and 10 more C-17s in the fiscal year 2010 budget.

"That doesn't fill the [airlift] gap at all even if Congress buys a few more," O'Keefe says.

The A400M's future, however, is itself uncertain. Airbus has asked its customers to agree on new contract terms to absorb cost overruns reportedly greater than €5 billion($7.25 million).

The A400M programme is scheduled to complete the flight-test phase and enter service in 2012.

Source: Flight International