Upgraded Light/Medium Transports From Airbus Military
While the A400M and tankers grab the limelight, it is Airbus Military’s light and medium (L&M) transports that have been filling the order books, and the company has two new offerings that it hopes will maintain its ascendancy in the sector. The C295W is an upgraded version of the popular medium transport, while the original CASA 212 light transport is to get a makeover as the NC212i.
During 2012 Airbus Military sold 32 aircraft, all of which were CN235s and C295s in the L&M category. As well as several repeat orders, the sales included new customers Cameroon and Kazakhstan. The figure represented a 76-percent market share in the sector, in which the company has averaged 51 percent of sales in the decade since 2003. The company has just delivered its 100th C295 as part of an order from Oman.
C295 with Winglets
To maintain the L&M family’s position Airbus Military is exploring several development avenues, not only to introduce new mission capabilities but also to improve performance and efficiency. Just before Paris the company formally launched the marketing for the C295W upgrade. Work has been ongoing on this enhanced transport for more than two years.
From the outside the most obvious difference is the addition of winglets. These have been trialed on the company’s testbed since last December. They are metallic additions with a composite attachment to the wing. In the full production configuration the wings need some strengthening of the upper skin that, with additional structural enhancements, add 30 kilograms to the weight, plus another 30 kilograms for each winglet. However, the performance benefits are considerable, with a 3- to 6-percent reduction in fuel consumption and a corresponding range/endurance increase. The latter is of particular benefit to special-mission variants.
Additionally, Airbus has been working with Pratt & Whitney Canada to get approval for new power settings for the PW127G turboprops. For instance, takeoff power is now permitted to be used during the climb, while maximum permissible cruise power is also increased to what was previously the maximum climb setting. The effect is to improve payload capability under hot-and-high conditions by more than 1,000 kilograms, increase ceiling (from 21,000 to 24,500 feet for a 21 metric ton takeoff weight), and also improve safety margins by increasing OEI (one engine inoperative) performance. Engine changes have been approved under the same type rating, although the flight manuals are altered to reflect the different performance.
At the end of last month the certification process for the winglet-equipped C295W got under way, and design documents will be frozen in September. Certification flights are scheduled to be undertaken from January, with certification by Spanish authority INTA due in September. In the fourth quarter of next year the C295W will become the baseline production model, with the option of either fitting or deleting the winglets. Airbus is also analyzing the smaller CN235 to see if it would benefit from the addition of winglets.
Airbus Military is also continuing its work on special-mission versions of the C295 such as the AEW aircraft that recently completed a successful trials campaign with the winglets fitted. An armed maritime patrol C295 trials aircraft successfully released a Marte anti-ship missile in April, and that option is now offered to customers. Airbus is also working on a gunship version known as the C295 Gunner. Presently the company is studying various 27mm or 30mm cannon options, and is due to select a weapon later this year. An OBIGGS (onboard inert gas generation system) has been successfully tested, and is now also on offer to customers.
While Airbus has concentrated mainly on developing options for the C295, the C212 light transport has not been overlooked. This was the first L&M aircraft, originally designed by CASA, the forerunner of Airbus Military. The company’s Sevilla final assembly line handed over its last C212 on December 28 last year, brining to an end 42 years of uninterrupted production at the site. Now all production is undertaken by PT Dirgantara Indonesia at Bandung, as the NC212.
Last November PT DI and Airbus Military jointly launched a program to significantly improve the C212-400 aircraft, to result in a version called NC212i. At this year’s LIMA show in Malaysia a development plan was signed, under which PT DI will lead the engineering while Airbus Military will be responsible for EASA and FAA FAR 25 certification. Both companies will market and support the aircraft. The preliminary design review was undertaken last month, and a critical design review is scheduled for the third quarter of this year.
A cockpit update is at the heart of the NC212i, with new displays, air data system and attitude heading reference system. New cockpit voice and flight data recorders will be installed, and the aircraft will have a new autopilot and traffic collision avoidance systems. A cabin interior redesign is also being implemented. New Thunderbay seats are to be installed in the passenger-carrying configuration, allowing the aircraft to accommodate up to 28. Although the aircraft is certified to carry that number already, most operators fly in a 25-seat configuration due to cabin constraints.
Opportunities for L&M
Over the next decade Airbus Military forecasts sales of over $10 billion in the light/medium transport sector which, though small compared to the heavy transport and tanker/transport businesses, will nevertheless help underpin the company’s revenue stream. “We have proven aircraft,” asserted Rafael Tentor, senior v-p programs. “They are in service worldwide and our customers are satisfied. The product is appreciated in the market: it’s a low-risk solution.”
In the immediate future the company is looking at several key campaigns. Brazil is seeking to expand its C295 fleet, including aircraft in maritime patrol configuration, while the US Coast Guard requires more CN235-based HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft. Poland has requested information on a maritime patrol version too, with anti-submarine capability. Ghana is in the final stages of negotiation over C295s to be used on behalf of the United Nations in Africa. Indonesia, which has already ordered nine C295s, is in discussions over a further seven. Airbus Military’s Indonesian partner, PT DI, is establishing an assembly line at Bandung, and the final two of the current Indonesian order will be completed there.
Perhaps the most important opportunity is the potential sale to India of 56 C295s. The Indian Air Force wants to replace its elderly Avro 748 transports, and issued a request for proposals in May. A local sales and assembly partner is needed so that Airbus Military can meet a requirement for 60 percent of the content to be placed with Indian companies. “Fifty-six aircraft justifies the creation of a line, we did it in Turkey previously,” stated Tentor. “And fifty-six aircraft, we believe, is not the end of the story. India is a strategic country. We will invest there with a long-term view.”