Boeing announced this month that India had formally expressed interest in acquiring 10 C-17 military transports. The company said the Indian air force wanted to “replace and augment” its fleet of Russian-made Il-76 and An-32 airlifters. The news followed closely on a confirmation that the U.A.E. had signed for six C-17s, as expected. Four will be delivered in 2011 and two in 2012.
At a dramatic new year press conference held beneath the second A400M in the final assembly building in Seville, Spain, the chief executive officers of EADS and Airbus declared that they would stop funding the program at the end of this month.
The first Airbus Military A400M military airlifter (MSN 1) made its first flight today, taking off at 10:15 a.m. local time (0915 UTC) from Seville, Spain, for a three-hour, 47-minute flight, according to EADS. The six-person crew, led by Edward Strongman, Airbus chief test pilot, military, said the aircraft and its four Europrop International TP400D turboprop engines performed as expected.
There was good news and bad news for Europe’s troubled airlifter last week. Airbus Military said the first A400M is now in the hands of the flight-test team and on course for a first flight by the end of the year. And the program gained a strong endorsement from the UK Royal Air Force commander. But South Africa canceled its order for eight aircraft and claimed a refund of $391 million already handed over.
With the delay to the Airbus A400M in mind, as well as tight defense budgets, BAE Systems Regional Aircraft’s Asset Management unit is marketing surplus British Aerospace 146-200 and -300 airliners to military customers as low-cost tactical transports under the model name BAe 146M. BAE owns 47 of the four-engine, high-wing jets, many of which are now coming off lease as airlines replace them with new regional jets.
Airbus Military is increasingly confident about the technical progress of the A400M airlifter, but has refused to comment on the difficult, ongoing negotiations with the European launch nations over cost and timescale.
Anxious to demonstrate progress toward a first flight, Airbus Military will hold another technical press briefing on the troubled A400M airlifter in Spain next week. Ahead of the meeting, the company told AIN that Europrop had delivered Fadec software for the TP400 engines, so that system integration tests could proceed on the so-called “iron bird” test rig in Toulouse, France.
As negotiations to secure a future for Europe’s troubled A400M airlifter continue, the UK government is taking the hardest line with Airbus Military, and moving quickly to secure alternative solutions. At the meeting of defense ministers in Seville, Spain, last month, the UK vetoed a Franco-German proposal to delay a final decision until December.
Airbus has presented “a realistic development and production schedule” to the A400M partner nations, CEO Tom Enders said here in Paris on Tuesday. Ahead of next week’s meeting in Seville with the defense ministers, Airbus won’t answer detailed questions about the plan in public. But they seem to have convinced one customer already: French defense minister Herve Morin said here yesterday that he could see “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Lockheed Martin can deliver C-130J military transports to the nations affected by the A400M debacle within 36 months, on a sale or lease basis. Longer-term, LM continues to study an “Extra Large” version of the C-130 that could offer the same fuselage cross section as the European airlifter.