PARIS --- The four major customer nations of the A400M airlifter will meet with the manufacturer in Berlin later this month to iron out the aircraft’s technical shortfalls and to agree on a revised delivery schedule, French defense procurement chief Laurent Collet-Billon told reporters here Feb 09. “We also want to meet Fernando Alonso,” the new head of the Airbus Military unit.
The meeting will take place before Airbus Group unveils a new delivery schedule for the aircraft on Feb 27, when it is due to announce its 2014 financial results in Munich.
“There are two major issues, production and deliveries, and on both we are not satisfied” by Airbus’ performance, Collet-Billon said. France expects four A400Ms to be delivered this year, and cannot tolerate any further delays as it is retiring its older C-160 Transalls but needs to maintain its transport capacity to support its ongoing military operations in Africa.
“This is a well-born aircraft, and it is working well. As a transport aircraft in its initial operational standard, it does the job,” Collet-Billon added. “However, there are logistic and support difficulties that we are working to fix, and there are delivery delays” that cannot be accepted as the customer air forces have urgent requirements.
Collet-Billon said that most important for the customer nations is that certification of the Block 1.5 software take place as scheduled in October, and that delivery rates pick up quickly. These will be the overriding subjects of the agenda of the Berlin meeting. This new standard will allow the integration of self-protection equipment, new modes of air-dropping, and other improvements.
Late deliveries are mainly due to supply chain management failures, Airbus Group strategy chief Marwan Lahoud told reporters here Jan. 29. “It's everything: the entire supply line that is the problem. It's saying for example we have to stop [production] because we don't have the shipsets,” he said, suggesting that the management changes announced on the same day would solve the problems.
The changes include the appointment of Alonso (58) as Head of the Airbus Military Aircraft business unit, and the transfer of responsibility for all industrial activities to the Operations organization, which is led by Pilar Albiac-Murillo.
Customers also have found lapses in quality control. and delivered aircraft do not meet all contractual specifications. France has found several hundred deficiencies on its A400Ms, Collet-Billon said, although these are of varying gravity and range from nicks in the paint to serious capability shortfalls.
For example, the aircraft is not yet cleared to drop paratroopers through its side doors, although paras can jump through the rear ramp. It looks unlikely that the A400M will ever be able to refuel helicopters in flight, Collet-Billon said, because of the strong propwash and induced instability generated by its large, contra-rotating turboprop engines. This is however a contractual requirement, and the capability should be delivered by 2017 or 2018.
France’s deficiencies are not as serious as those found by Germany, however, as Der Spiegel reported in January that German military inspectors had found 875 defects, including missing insulation of electric cables and leaked hydraulic oil on the main landing gear and tires, on the first German A400M, which it finally accepted on Dec. 18.