Andrew Doyle/MUNICH


Airbus Military Company (AMC) has shelved the engine selection for its proposed A400M medium transport because of political pressure for the competing powerplant manufacturers to find a joint European solution.

A decision between the Snecma/MTU M138 turboprop and the rival BMW Rolls-Royce BR700-TP had been set for late June, but AMC says a choice is unlikely before the first quarter of next year.

Sources close to the competition say selection of a winning bidder at this stage would be politically unacceptable, because engine companies from some of the countries planning to buy the A400M would be excluded from a share of the powerplant work. "A European engine solution could really be an alternative to the two proposals," says one official.

The delay in engine choice has raised questions over the development schedule of the airframe, however. Although, on paper, the M138 and BR700-TP offer similar thrust levels and fuel consumption, their aerodynamic and weight characteristics are different.

AMC commercial director Richard Thompson says that the delay will not affect the consortium's sales campaign with the seven countries evaluating the A400M.

"Technically it doesn't matter that we are not making the engine selection now-both fully meet the requirement," he says.

It is understood that no formal talks have taken place between the engine makers and it remains unclear on which engine a joint solution would be based.

Sources at the engine companies concede that political pressure has been instrumental in delaying the decision, although the UK Ministry of Defence says that it was informed by Airbus on 21 July that the delay was for "purely commercial reasons".

The Snecma offering uses the core of the M88 engine used in the Rafale fighter, while its rival uses the core of a powerplant already on Gulfstream and Bombardier business jets and the Boeing 717 regional jet.

Aside from the core, both engines are in the early stages of development.

Snecma, which is also working with Spain's ITP and Fiat of Italy on the M138, says: "We filed a paper with Airbus, telling them we are open to industrial participation with the nations taking part in the A400M programme. The UK and Turkey could enter the M138."

BMW R-R, which is working on the BR700-TP with UK parent R-R, says: "We are open to European solutions. The BMW R-R-led offer is based on a European consortium in which a final selection of partners and suppliers is still to be defined."

Seven countries - Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the UK - are studying the A400M for their medium transport requirements and together need around 288 aircraft. They are due to make their decisions by the end of this year.

Some of the countries are also studying bids from the Medium Transport Aircraft consortium, offering the Antonov An-7X, Lockheed Martin with the C-130J and Boeing, proposing the C-17.

Source: Flight International