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Airbus Military details recovery plan for at-risk A400M

Airbus Military is looking for a commitment from its seven European customers before next month's Paris air show to continue their involvement in the A400M project.

Now in a three-month moratorium period agreed between the EADS-led company and its partner nations, the 180-aircraft programme is expected to achieve a delayed first flight later this year.

Airbus Military managing director Domingo Ureña confirms that Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK have been given a target date for the test milestone, but declines to reveal this in public.

Speaking at the A400M final assembly line in San Pablo near Seville on 4 May, Ureña confirmed that there are no current negotiations with the customers via Europe's OCCAR procurement agency.

"They wanted to know where we are, and to understand the current situation," he says. "We are in a phase of common understanding, to see what are the details, and what is the recovery plan."

 A400M EADS
© Airbus Military

While the company will not be in a position to provide concrete cost or delivery schedules until it is into a "mature" flight-test campaign, Ureña says: "At the end of this moratorium the nations can reach conclusions - I hope in a positive way."

Airbus Military aims to agree a modified contract with its customers before year-end, he says, using data collected during flight tests of the airlifter. A new agreement is required to reflect the technological challenges facing some aspects of the project, and an increase in costs and duration, he adds.

"Today this is a cash-negative programme for the company. The nations need to understand that we are developing industry, and we are supporting massive employment."

Outlining the programme's current status, Ureña says: "People are working like mad, day and night - suppliers, partners, everybody. We have put in more engineers than ever, just to show the willingness and trust that this company and its suppliers have in this programme. Hopefully the customer is going to understand the situation, and the proactive mood of the industry."

Rolled out last June, the programme's first production aircraft, MSN001, is now in systems testing, and has had around 20t of flight test instrumentation installed ahead of starting ground runs "in the summer", following outdoor fuel tests to begin from mid-May.

"It is tangible: you can see it, you can touch it. Unfortunately you cannot fly it yet," says Ureña.

MSN002 (below) achieved its power-on milestone in late April, while final assembly work on the programme's third production aircraft is scheduled to begin later this month, after its fuselage is delivered from Bremen, Germany.

 
© Airbus Military

While he confirms that "we have, like any aircraft, weight issues", Ureña says: "I believe we can meet our commitment on payload/range, as in the original contract."

The aircraft's Europrop International TP400-D6 engines - the primary cause of delays in launching flight-test activities - received ground clearance approval on 31 March. The 11,000shp (8,200kW) turboprop is within 1% of its specified weight target of 1.9t, says EPI president Nick Durham. Ureña expects the propulsion system's FADEC software to be delivered in mid-May.

Airbus Military's launch order committed it to deliver its first A400M to the French air force in October 2009, but EADS earlier this year revised this target to around three years after MSN001's flight debut.

"What we are waiting for is for the flight-test campaign to confirm - or not - what we have forecast," says Ureña. "As soon as we get this we will be in a position to relaunch production."

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