LONDON --- The giant propeller system on the wing of the A400M is known as El Toro to the Airbus workers who assemble the military transport aircraft outside Seville. At 683kg, not only does the propeller weigh roughly the same as a young prize bull, but up close its 5.3-metre span conveys the same impression of enormous power.
And like a bull, the A400M programme has been an unpredictable beast. The challenges of developing a multi-role heavy lift aircraft using new engine and composite technologies have torn up the planning of the seven nations who backed its development and the finances of the company that took on the contract.
Since its launch in 2003, it is estimated that Airbus has recorded provisions of about €8bn — the latest of €1.3bn in February— on a programme originally expected to cost €20bn. The first aircraft was delivered four years late — to France, which has since been forced to buy alternative lifters to cover the gap caused by delays.
Since that first delivery, the programme has been plagued by persistent capability shortfalls, new delays and technological problems, the gravest of which led to the deaths of four crew after an aircraft crashed in 2015.
Now Fernando Alonso, Airbus’s head of military aircraft, wants to reassure existing and potential customers that the programme’s troubled history is nearing its end.
The industrial problems that hampered the programme and led to management changes in 2015 had been resolved, he said. This year, aircraft were being delivered “on the date that was planned, sometimes a little earlier”. (end of excerpt)
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