The first Airbus Military A400M transport has moved closer to assembly, with the static test aircraft's nose section delivered from Airbus France's Saint-Nazaire site to EADS Casa in Getafe near Madrid last month.
The fully equipped structure will soon be integrated with its main fuselage barrel, wings and empennage, and support a one-year static test campaign. Airbus Military meanwhile says production activities at EADS Casa's A400M final assembly line in Seville are "to start shortly".
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Europe's A400M tactical transport has yet to have its first flight, but Airbus Military has already succeeded in securing two export customers for it: Malaysia (four) and South Africa (eight). Once combined with its seven-nation launch order for 180 aircraft, these commitments place the A400M's orderbook at 192 aircraft: just one behind Boeing's sales of the C-17. The UK is the only nation currently committed to operating both types, although their manufacturers describe them as complementary.
Run under the same principle as an Airbus commercial development, the A400M is on a tight schedule to make its planned flight debut in January 2008. Airbus recently revealed that an internal audit had identified a risk of a three-month delay to the project due to "significant programme challenges", including completion of the final assembly line in Seville, Spain, and unspecified mission systems work.
The first A400M main fuselage is being assembled in Bremen, Germany, before its delivery to Seville over the coming months. Marshall Aerospace of the UK is also awaiting delivery of a Europrop International TP400-D6 turboprop engine to integrate with a Lockheed Martin C-130 testbed, with flight testing due to begin around mid-year.
The A400M will be capable of carrying a 37t payload and could be re-roled with tanker equipment within 2h, according to Airbus Military. Three nations - France, Germany and Spain - in late 2005 ordered tanker kit sufficient to equip up to 40 of their combined 137 aircraft.
Production of the A400M is expected to peak at 30 a year, with current orders to cover build activities until 2021. The first will be delivered in 2009, 50 by 2011, and more than 100 by 2013. Export customers are being offered the aircraft for acceptance from 2010, when South Africa will receive its first example.
Airbus Military has identified a possible demand for 208 more aircraft in the A400M class in 33 countries. The company also perceives a potential need within the US armed forces to field a platform such as the A400M a prospect which could be bolstered if Washington opts to halt production of the C-17.