EADS's creation brought with it Spain's airlift specialist CASA. Now the business wants to be a serious player in aerial refuelling

When EADS was formed through the amalgamation of the French and German defence industries in 2000, the inclusion of a Spanish counterpart appeared a peripheral step to some observers. But by acquiring the interests of Spanish airlift specialist CASA, now known as EADS Casa, the company has established a powerful force in EADS Military Transport Aircraft, in which it has great hopes for the future.

Headquartered in Getafe near the Spanish capital Madrid, the division is responsible for the production of CASA's three legacy transport aircraft designs, the development and promotion of products derived from Airbus's commercial aircraft range, and preparing for the final assembly of Airbus Military's A400M.

More than 750 CASA-developed transports have been sold to date, and continued production and assembly activities at the company's San Pablo site near Seville are expected to push its delivery total beyond 1,000 airframes by the middle of the next decade. Some 470 C-212s, 250 CN-235s and 37 C-295s have now been delivered or contracted, with the most recent success coming last month with a Brazilian order for 12 C-295s worth about E240 million ($300 million). Orders for the latter type have also come from Jordan, Poland, Spain and an undisclosed North African country, while Portugal is considering the type against the Alenia Aeronautica/Lockheed Martin C-27J Spartan.

As well as delivering aircraft configured solely for transport duties, the CASA product range has been used for maritime patrol applications for almost 25 years, with more than 60 platforms sold to date. Announced last month, the most recent of these was an order for three CN-235s to be delivered to Spain's Sasemar maritime surveillance agency. This business area has also been expanded by orders to modernise five Lockheed P-3 Orion maritime patrols for Spain and eight for Brazil, including provision of the EADS Casa-developed Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS) mission suite. The FITS design has already been selected to equip C-295s for the United Arab Emirates and the same mix is being offered to Canada.

The most striking impact of the former CASA's integration into EADS has been the company's attempt to emulate Airbus's achievement in breaking Boeing's commercial aircraft dominance by taking on the US supplier in the inflight refuelling sector. The first steps along this road have seen the company secure orders to modify six A310s into multi-role tanker transports (MRTT) equipped with underwing hose-and-drogue refuelling pods for Canada (two) and Germany (four). The company is now promoting the same upgrade to other military A310 operators, including Belgium, Spain and Thailand and potential users in Latin America, eyeing a potential market for 24 aircraft.

But it is the A330 widebody twin that is carrying EADS' hopes for major export success and it is on the home stage that it aims to break Boeing's stranglehold on the tanker market. The companies are expected to contest a high-profile requirement to provide the US Air Force with a replacement for its Boeing KC-135s, which are an average of 43 years old. Australia has already signed a contract to acquire five new-build A330-200 tankers, and the UK is expected to finalise a deal by early 2006 to operate a fleet of the aircraft – suggested by EADS Casa as 17-19 airframes – under a 27-year private finance initiative to be run by the EADS-led AirTanker consortium.

The availability of a boom proved vital to the A330-based campaign in Australia and is also fundamental to any prospect of selling the system to the USAF. With the service expected to launch a competition between Boeing – likely to offer the 767 or possibly the new 787 – and EADS North America later this year, EADS is rushing to complete testing of a new advanced refuelling boom system (ARBS). Developed under a $90 million company-funded investment approved in late 2001, the ARBS is now being integrated with an A310 testbed ahead of a three-month flight test campaign that will begin in Europe late this year after a mid-year first flight (Flight International, 10-16 May).

Now in full swing, the modification programme will add a 5,000kg (11,000lb) refuelling system to the A310, including a boom mast weighing about 1,200kg with retracted and extended lengths of 11m (36ft) and 17.8m. In addition to the boom, which is assembled and tested near Getafe by 60% EADS-owned CESA, the modified test aircraft will be equipped with two operator stations fitted with 3D vision systems. These will take their information from three stereoscopic and three panoramic cameras integrated beneath the aircraft's rear fuselage. The receiver aircraft will line up on the tanker using a light in the A310's tail cone and a series of illuminators and Honeywell-supplied director lights beneath the fuselage.

The boom will deliver fuel at a flow rate of 4,550-5,700 litres/min (1,200-1,500 US gal/min) – twice as fast as a centreline hose unit and three times faster than an underwing pod, says Carlos Suarez, the company's vice-president, Airbus military derivatives. Full qualification of the ARBS will require 300-400 flight hours, and the boom design is expected to amass 500-600h of use before it enters service with the Royal Australian Air Force. The boom-equipped A310 could later be deployed to the USA to support an assessment by the USAF, retained for trials and development activities or sold to an air force operator, says EADS Casa. Regardless of its future prospects in the USA, EADS is already promoting the A330-based MRTT for requirements in Asia, France, the United Arab Emirates and with NATO.

Meanwhile, the A400M will also be delivered with provision for use as a tanker in support of fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter operations. Industry sources suggest at least four of the launch nations intend to acquire inflight refuelling equipment for some of their aircraft. However, while deemed technically feasible, the integration of a boom is considered unlikely, because its integration would prevent the use of the transport's tail ramp. EADS Casa is also offering a single-point tanker conversion of its CN-235 and C-295 transports, with the aircraft to have a maximum 6t offload from a fuselage refuelling point.

EADS Casa hopes to achieve sales of at least 150 tankers from a projected global market for 600 aircraft over the next decade, says Rafael Acedo, the company's senior vice-president for military transport aircraft programmes. Singling out the tanker potential of the A330, which he describes as "superior" to anything likely to be offered by Boeing, he says this 25% share represents a "conservative figure" on the total market likely to be open to the Airbus derivative.

With only 11 tanker-transports on order and a possible further 17-19 within months of being contracted for service in the UK, EADS is just beginning its journey into the global tanker market. But with coalition planners having repeatedly identified inflight refuelling as a campaign-critical capability, the company appears well placed to capitalise on its formation of the Military Transport Aircraft division, and on its investment in developing the boom-equipped A330.


Source: Flight International