After testing a beach landing capability with a Royal Air Force A400M earlier this month, Airbus Defence & Space says it is on track to qualify a redesigned helicopter refuelling system, roll-out a final solution to a power gearbox problem and resolve a dispute over penalties caused by delivery delays.
"Things are going very, very well," Airbus head of military aircraft Fernando Alonso said on 9 June, adding: "In five to 10 years from now, this will be a reference for logistical transport airplanes."
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But Airbus is still working to recover from what Alonso calls a "very difficult" 2016. On New Year's Eve in 2015, a flaw was discovered in the propeller-driving power gearbox of the Europrop International (EPI) TP400-D6 engines, requiring Airbus to impose a frequent maintenance interval that restricted operations. An interim solution for the power gearbox issue has reduced the inspection interval to once a year or less, Alonso says. "This is totally acceptable from an operational point of view," he adds.
But Airbus and EPI plan to release by year-end another modification – called "Pack 2" – that will remove the annual inspection requirement, he says.
Airbus is also negotiating with A400M operators to reduce contractual penalties caused by delivery delays. Being conducted with Europe's OCCAR defence procurement agency and individual customers, the discussions are "constructive", Alonso says. "We hope certainly by the end of this year we will have a resolution," he adds.
In the meantime, Airbus is working to address requirements that the A400M is currently unable to meet. The company has successfully tested an extended refuelling hose that can allow the Atlas to support helicopters, Alonso says, and it is now waiting for OCCAR to approve the proposed redesign.
The A400M programme also is "slowly progressing" with efforts to fix other requirements shortfalls, such as in defensive aids subsystems and air-dropping certain types of cargo, he says.