PARIS --- The French air force will soon receive the first A400M military transport aircraft fully equipped with self-protection and air-drop capabilities, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced today.
The Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) – which manages equipment for the French military – will take "delivery of the first A400M aircraft with tactical capabilities," he said while visiting the Eurosatory defense exhibition in a Paris suburb.
"When the news is good, one must talk about it. The ninth French [A400M] aircraft has self-protection and paradropping capabilities that will be decisive (...) in external theaters," Agence France Presse reported him as saying later.
Separately, the Paris news website La Tribune reported June 14 that the consortium that supplies the A400M’s turboprop engines had found an interim fix for the fault in the propeller gear box (PGB) that has limited the aircraft’s operations by requiring inspections every 20 flight hours.
La Tribune reported that the Europrop consortium, which comprises France’s Safran, Germany’s MTU, Spain’s ITP and the UK’s Rolls-Royce, has promised Airbus and the customer countries that it will begin implementing the interim fix by September, which should allow a significant relaxation of the inspection intervals once it is approved by the European EASA airworthiness authority, possibly by July.
A spokeswoman for Airbus Defence and Space confirmed the report, saying that “an adapted part of the PGB is being tested,” and will be submitted to EASA for certification as soon as possible.
The A400M has suffered multiple delays and capability shortfalls which has limited its operational capabilities to straightforward transport missions, excluding more complex, low-level tactical missions that are required for operational use.
The French call tactical missions those that involve landing on unpaved strips, low-level cargo extraction of heavy through the back ramp, paratroop dropping through the side fuselage doors, which also require the aircraft be equipped with a self-protection suite against short-range surface-to-air missiles.
"The A400M will be, in my opinion, an exceptional aircraft, but it has had a difficult start (..) it has had its share of teething problems," Le Drian noted.
"But recent developments that I have seen really reflect the mobilization of the whole industry behind this program," he added.
"By the end of the year, my department will have a fleet of fully operational tactical aircraft. In any case that is what I have been promised, and I am confident that it will happen," Le Drian concluded.
The German government has called for the Airbus group to produce a specific plan to solve the problems of the A400M, after the recent appearance of new faults in the engines as well as cracks in the fuselage.