German federal civil protection organisation Technisches Hilfswerk (THW) is trying to identify ways to reduce expense and inefficiency in disaster-response airlifts, as Airbus pitches its A400M to fill the humanitarian transport role.
THW president Albrecht Broemme indicates the financial burden of typical operations, citing the one-way $345,000 cost of chartering Ilyushin Il-76s to deliver water purification systems to earthquake-hit China.
He adds that transporting search-and-rescue personnel by Boeing 767 to northern Japan after the tsunami in 2011 was similarly costly - with an extra problem bringing people back because operators were reluctant to fly near the damaged nuclear-power plant.
Broemme says THW is participating in a study to look at alternatives and better spend its €180 million ($230 million) budget. "We don't have the money to buy an Airbus," he says, "but we'd be an important user [of available aircraft]. We'd like to have an aircraft on which there's a German flag, not a Russian one."
Lutz Bertling, incoming president of German aerospace association BDLI, says: "We can hardly have a standing fleet of aircraft [dedicated to] disaster relief."
However, he says work should be undertaken to examine measures to use resources more efficiently - possibly looking at spare capacity from Germany's 53 A400Ms, deliveries of which are scheduled from 2014.
The A400M would be suitable for a humanitarian role because of its ability to operate from poor airstrips without the need for specialised loading equipment, says Airbus, adding that it is keen to examine the extent to which Germany could use its fleet for disaster support.
"We don't want to call it a business case," it adds, "but there's a case out there [for using the A400M]."
The Airbus Corporate Foundation, which uses test aircraft capacity and ferry operations to aid relief organisations, has carried out 27 humanitarian flights since 2008 - nine in response to natural disasters.