Early last year, Airbus Group chief executive Tom Enders took the highly unusual and humbling step of publicly apologising for the development and ­production delays that were hindering the company’s delivery performance on the A400M, and promised to improve the situation.

Scroll on to last week and, during an annual results briefing, Enders was again commenting on the troubles affecting the tactical transport, and the ability of Airbus Defence & Space to deliver on its commitments.

A troubled and tragedy-afflicted 2015 saw only 11 of a once-planned 23 Atlas airlifters handed over to customers – two shy of a minimum target disclosed ­towards the end of the year. At that point, flight-testing and delivery schedules were still attempting to make up ground following a temporary fleet-wide grounding ­imposed after the fatal May crash of an aircraft during its first test flight. Four company personnel died.

Enders now expects the delivery of at least 20 A400Ms during 2016, although this output could be adjusted if requested by the programme’s seven European launch nations through ongoing negotiations. Programme officials had previously said these were due to conclude by the end of last December.

As the Airbus boss states, the fact that the A400M is a troubled programme is no secret, so there is no suggestion that the four-engined type’s continued production is at any risk. But the continuing uncertainty around if and when promised additional military capabilities can be delivered is hampering sales efforts. After all, having one of your partner nations turn to a rival – as France did with an order for Lockheed Martin KC-130J tankers – is hardly a ringing export sales endorsement.

If the old maxim “build it and they will come” is to be realised with the European design, then perfecting the first part is essential. The coming months should at least bring clarity to whether the partner nations wish to reduce the already lagging rate of assembly ramp-up or the speed at which upgraded capability will be introduced. It should also reveal whether there could be any downwards movement on total production numbers.

A400M rescue - Action Press Rex Shutterstock

Action Press/REX/Shutterstock

Unless this clarity is found, there’s a chance that Enders will experience a sense of déjà vu when he delivers the next set of annual results.

That in itself should be sufficient motivation for the A400M team in Seville to find ways of resolving its part in the project’s problems: Enders’s early 2015 threat of “management and organisational consequences” was not an idle one.

Source: Flight International