SEVILLE, Spain --- Airbus has confirmed the most negative scenario regarding faults in the reduction gear of the engine of the A400M military transport aircraft, as cracks have been found in all engines whose propellers rotate clockwise.
In extreme cases, these cracks in the engine’s Propeller Gear Box (PGB) could shed flakes of metal which then that pass into the oil cooling circuit. This is what happened earlier this year to a newly-delivered UK aircraft. (The PGB is made by the Italian company Avio, a subsidiary of US giant General Electric.)
That means that two of the four engines fitted to each of the 24 aircraft delivered to date – or a total 48 engines -- must now be repaired, a much bigger task than initially anticipated.
(An Airbus spokesman confirmed May 24 that “all right-hand rotating units are affected by the issue.” The European Airworthiness Directive issued because of this fault mandates “replacement if evidence of damage is found, or else return to service and continuing repetitive inspections,” the spokesman confirmed.
(In other words, as Airbus has delivered 24 aircraft to date, it must now repair their 48 right-hand rotating engines (two per aircraft) and well as modify and fit the 80 engines that power the 20 aircraft it has promised to deliver this year—Ed.)
"We are in daily conversations with our suppliers and customers to solve this problem in a standardized manner. We work with all our capabilities to meet the needs of our customers," said Airbus sources. Eight military customers have ordered 174 aircraft and, in addition to the 24 already delivered, this year Airbus expected to deliver 20 more, although so far only three have been received by customers. Spain should receive its first A400M this year, and that plane is a priority for Airbus, company sources say.
The next step is how to fix these problems on the A400M Final Assembly Line located in Seville, Spain. The problem is twofold: first, Europrop must repair the 48 engines that have already failed, and which are installed on the 24 aircraft already in operation. Secondly, it must at the same time produce modified engines for new aircraft that are being assembled.
This creates an overload of work for Europrop, the joint venture company that is the prime contractor for the TP-400 turboshaft program, and also disorganizes the assembly line in Seville. In order to absorb this unexpected workload, the San Pablo plant is considering the erection of a temporary hangar -- a Recovery Center – to reinforce the capacity of engine assembly.
There are now A400M aircraft on the assembly line that will not receive their engines by the deadline, so this provisional hangar would be configured as a duplicate of station 20 – the assembly line position where the engines are fitted to the aircraft, before they are painted.
(The Airbus spokesman declined May 24 to discuss the duplicate assembly station—Ed.)
General Electric (Avio) has informed Airbus that in the second half of this year it will deliver more engines than originally planned to address this increased demand. To put things into perspective, the 20 aircraft that Airbus plans to deliver this year require 80 engines, in addition to another 48 whose PGB must be urgently repaired.
So far, the highest estimate by Airbus for the economic impact of the failure of the engine reduction gear is 2,500 million euros. Although the company has not officially confirmed this figure, it has already provisioned in its accounts about 5,000 billion euros to deal with cost overruns, and has announced in its 2015 financial statement in March that the impact of these latest engine problems would be "significant" in economic terms.
Before these latest problems, the cost of the A400M program had already increased to 28,000 million euros, as 8,000 million euros for cost overruns have been added since its 2003 launch.
The reduction gear problem is additional to another problem detected and corrected in 2015 on 14 other engines. And to new cracks in the fuselage frames unveiled a week ago. On the positive side, Indonesia was the first new country to confirm its intention of purchasing the aircraft, and will acquire a small fleet of about four aircraft, similar in size to Malaysia’s.