With his company within weeks of delivering its first A400M under a European project for 170 of the type, Airbus Military chief executive Domingo Ureña-Raso has for the first time hinted openly at a potential future development programme for a smaller transport aircraft.
To provide the air forces of Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK - plus first export customer Malaysia - with a tactical airlifter capable of carrying a maximum payload of 37t, the A400M has been designed to occupy a niche between the USA's smaller Lockheed Martin C-130J and larger Boeing C-17.
Significant product development work is still being conducted on Airbus Military's C295 medium transport, which can carry a cargo of up to 9t. This includes a winglet-equipped production standard to be delivered to customers from 2014, plus a version on offer to several potential buyers with an airborne early warning and control system developed by Israel Aerospace Industries' Elta Systems subsidiary.
Speaking in Seville on 29 May, Ureña-Raso said the company's next development task could be to create an offering to fit below the size of the C-130 Hercules. Possible payload capacities for such a product could be in the 9t area already occupied by the current C295, or in the "16-18t" sector, he said. The latter would pit any such transport in the same broad category as Embraer's turbofan-powered KC-390 transport and tanker, which the Brazilian company says will be able to lift between 16 and 23t, depending on mission type. Embraer's developmental product should be ready for service introduction with the Brazilian air force during 2016.
Despite his hints at Airbus Military's possible future development strategy, Ureña-Raso notes that no such activity will be launched in the short-term, while final assembly of the A400M continues to ramp up and the company also pursues a "second wave" of orders for its Airbus A330-based multi-role tanker transport, and further orders for its C295 product line.