Trust us. That was the underlying message issued last week by the man at the helm of Airbus Military, the newly restructured company responsible for turning around the fortunes of Europe's heavily delayed A400M transport.

To their combined credit, the EADS-led firm and its suppliers have pulled out all the stops in a bid to save the threatened project, investing their own money and assigning many more engineers to tackle technological shortcomings. But with a commitment being sought from the seven launch customers before next month's Paris air show, it is unclear whether all will be able - or willing - to trust again in their errant supplier.

There was something of a catch-22 overtone to the Airbus Military strategy outlined in Seville last week by managing director Domingo Ureña. The company has given the nations a date for the A400M's expected first flight, but cannot give assurances yet on either programme costs or a firm delivery schedule.

Airbus Military A400m

Critical control software for the airlifter's giant TP400 turboprop engines, the primary cause for its delay, will have been delivered, but not flown by its own deadline. Risk-reduction activities with a flight testbed will also not be completed in time for an informed decision.

First-flight dates have been missed before on this programme, which is now nearing the psychologically damaging milestone of reaching its contracted first delivery date, originally set for October 2009.

Ureña brings a strong pedigree, having joined Airbus Military after serving as the key architect for EADS's "Power 8" restructuring effort, intended to rationalise Airbus's sprawling manufacturing processes. But the A400M is an entirely different industrial beast, based on a juste retour workshare model between its partner nations.

Little hope then of addressing funding crises with innovative reform: the company's vision for a modified contract - to be thrashed out by year-end - is not of process improvements, but of reduced capability forced by "technological challenges".

The A400M has come tantalisingly close to being able to show whether it can deliver on a challenging set of requirements contracted just six years ago. Herein lies the true cause of industry's problems with the next-generation transport. Airbus is building a world-class military aircraft, but its past promises of a commercial-style development pace were hollow. It cannot afford to get it so glaringly wrong again.


Source: Flight International