Berlin Ties Airbus A400M Failures to Contracts Award By Country
(Source: Agencia EFE; published June 7, 2016)
(Published in Spanish; unofficial translation by Defense-Aerospace.com)
BERLIN --- German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen today blamed the failures accumulated by the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft on the award of contracts according to national quotas rather than to strict quality criteria at the beginning of the project.
At a meeting in Berlin with international media, Von der Leyen explained that "the question of who could do best was not raised," but a kind of "political" quotas were set to distribute production among suppliers from the countries involved in the project.
Germany, France, UK, Belgium, Luxembourg, Turkey and Spain, where the final assembly of the A400M takes place, are the program’s partner nations.
Von der Leyen, who is very close to Chancellor Angela Merkel, called for greater transparency and greater competition in public contracts with the defense industry.
The breakdown by national quotas, in her view, is "a systemic problem."
These wrong choices of supplier have been going on for many years, but are relevant to the present, Von der Leyen said, although she did not name any company or any particular country.
In recent years, added the minister, and following the identification of faults, the countries involved have renegotiated contracts and the Ministries of Defence of Germany and of other countries have gradually realized they are "customers" and, as such, entitled to demand that manufacturers perform.
When the arms sector was less internationalized, Von der Leyen hinted, manufacturers were more dependent on military contracts from their own governments, and that relationship was cultivated.
"The Bundeswehr (German army) cannot afford politics. We need the best equipment for our soldiers," Von der Leyen said.
The A400M, which is one of the major programs of Airbus and of Europe’s military aviation industry, has accumulated years of delays, of technical problems and huge cost overruns.
The Airbus factory in Seville, responsible for the final assembly of these aircraft, has only delivered two of the twenty aircraft it is scheduled to hand over this year.
To the problems of the past, several new faults have been found in the engine gearbox and in some frames of the fuselage structure.
These failures have not been confirmed in all 24 aircraft already in service, but have forced Airbus to slow production, to first replace the affected parts in delivered aircraft.
The first A400M aircraft Spain is due to receive is scheduled for September with the original engines and fuselage frames, which are to be replaced during future maintenance shutdowns as they are classified as "industrial" issues which do not affect the safety of the aircraft.
Spain is, together with Germany, France, UK, Italy, Belgium and Turkey, a founding partners of the A400M program, which was launched in July 2000 with the commitment of these countries to acquire a minimum of 225 aircraft.
The program’s cost overruns, whose initial cost was set at 20,000 million euros, has forced several governments, including Spain, to renegotiate the number of aircraft involved, or to delay deliveries.
Failures and Delays of the A400M Open Cracks In Europe’s Defense Industry
(Source: El Pais; published June 6, 2016)
By Miguel González
(Published in Spanish; unofficial translation by Defense-Aerospace.com)
MADRID --- Only 13 months after the A400M accident in Seville that killed four crew members and injured two others, the problems are piling up on the brand-new military airlifter, and cracks are opening in one of the most important programs of the Europe’s defense industry.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders acknowledged "huge mistakes" were made in the program in a May 29 interview with the German newspaper Bild. The words of the chief executive of the aerospace giant would be surprising were it not that Enders, despite acknowledging the company’s own faults, deflected most of the blame to its suppliers and to European governments, which are its financiers and customers: Germany, France, UK, Spain, Belgium and Turkey.
"We underestimated engine problems and are caught up by that original sin. At the start of the program we let ourselves be convinced by some well-known heads of government to award the engines to a consortium with little experience, " he added.
Instead of using a commercially-available engine that had already been tested, the A400M program opted for a completely new one, the Europrop International TP400-D6, designed by a consortium comprising Germany’ MTU, France’s Snecma, the UK’s Rolls-Royce and Spain’s ITP.
Enders’ remarks were intended for German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has announced that she will impose penalties, “including cash," for the delays in the delivery of the 53 aircraft ordered by Germany, which to date has only received three.
The most spectacular failure in the A400M to date is the appearance of cracks in the wing box, where the wings attach to the fuselage. These cracks, caused by metal fatigue, are worrying in a plane that is taking its first steps and are attributed to the use of lightweight materials whose mechanical resistance is lower than expected.
However significant this fault -- Airbus claims that it can be fixed during scheduled maintenance stops – it is not as serious as the one affecting the reduction gear boxes fitted to each of the aircraft’s four turboprop engines. Although the problem seems limited to only half of the engines, their replacement will ground the in-service fleet -- 24 aircraft -- and deliveries are suspended until new gearboxes, which are manufactured by Italy’s Avio Aero, a subsidiary of General Electric, are delivered. This failure appears related to the in-flight shutdown of an engine of a Royal Air Force A400M.
Both problems are independent of what caused the accident last year – it has been attributed to an engine software failure -- or others that have not yet been sufficiently clarified, such as the breaking of a cockpit window during a flight over Almeria in mid-May or the reported appearance of new cracks in the fuselage, where ramp is mounted.
In addition to these failures and delays, Airbus has not yet been able to make the A400M meet some of the operational requirements required by European armies, such as the in-flight refueling of helicopters or parachuting from the side doors.
The initial cost of the program amounted to 21,500 million euros, but it is estimated that cost overruns hover around 8,000 million euros. The attitude of different countries has been very different: while Berlin has not hesitated to publicly air its unhappiness, , Spain has opted for a discreet silence; among other reasons, because the aircraft is assembled in San Pablo (Seville), where it has a huge economic impact. So far, Spain has had no grounds for complaint about delays because its Air Force is scheduled to receive its first aircraft this year, while the defense ministry is negotiating to reduce its order 27 to 14 aircraft.
Most worrying for Airbus are the steps being taken by some governments, revealing their distrust in the program. France has negotiated the purchase of four Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft, while Germany plans to buy a dozen.
“Abandoning the A400M would be a huge mistake because this aircraft has enormous potential: it will be the backbone of military air transport in Europe and its export will be a success," warned Enders.