published with consent from DefenceWeb
France’s Le Figaro daily says the Airbus A400M is no longer
likely to make its maiden flight this year.
Instead, it is expected to take to the air early next year,
according to a “confidential document” reportedly sent to
OCCAR (the European organisation for joint armament
cooperation) by Airbus parent EADS.
The Le Figaro report comes after the French Senate published
a report on the project in which South Africa is a
risk-sharing partner (available, in French, at
The Senate report, the only extensive public audit of the
program to date, spreads blame for the four year delay in
the fielding of the transport widely, blaming Airbus, OCCAR
as well as European governments.
The report also confirms media reports that the aircraft is
12 metric tons overweight. EADS told the Senate the payload
will remain 37mt, which will necessarily result in a heavier
aircraft with a lower top speed, shorter unrefueled range
and a maximum landing weight of 134mt rather than the
previously projected 122mt.
Senators from the foreign and finance committee also found
that the A400M’s unit price has increased from Ђ110 million
in 1998 to Ђ145 million today.
The report says problems with the platform can be blamed on
inexperience with military contracts at Airbus, excessive
optimism by subcontractors, ineffective programme management
and the different and conflicting agenda pursued by partner
Defence-Aerospace.com adds the report also identifies the
combined development and production contract, first signed
in 2001 and then amended in 2003, as “a recipe for failure”
because it called for concurrent development of a new
airframe, a new engine and new avionics. It also
underestimated price and timescale and further lacked a risk
Together, these factors introduced unsustainable levels of
risk, while contractual milestones were too tight and made
no allowance for development delays.
EADS and Airbus also seriously underestimated the mass, the
airframe stress factors and the complexity of mission
systems for a tactical transport aircraft. Also, at the time
Airbus was mainly focused on the A380 and on management
in-fighting, while the program management structure was
compromised by crossed lines of command and of
responsibility, the Senators added.
Litany of woe
The Senators further found that problems with the aircraft
are more extensive than the oft-reported crisis surrounding
the Hispano-Suiza-developed Full Authority Digital Engine
Controls (FADEC) software.
Delays in the navigation architecture are a worry equal to
concerns about power plant.
The Flight Management System (FMS), the GPS Air Data
Inertial Reference System (GADIRS), the Terrain-Reference
Navigation System (TRN) and the Terrain Masking Low Level
Flight system (TM-LLF) have all experienced major
The report adds delivery of the FADEC software is now
tentatively scheduled for October, assuming it obtains its
civil certification in July. This is two years later than
the contractual date of 30 October 2007, and pushes delivery
of the first A400M back to late 2012.
Other concerns raised in the report are:
· Only two aircraft are likely to have been delivered by
2013. Delivery rates will only ramp up in 2014 and the
backlog will not be fully worked away until 2020.
· Airbus has offered to deliver an interim airplane, but
this will not be capable of the more sophisticated tactical
flight modes until navigation systems issues have been
resolved. Delivered aircraft will then have to be
retrofitted to the full contractual standard.
The report notes partner governments have to date paid Ђ5
billion into the program. They declined, however, to pay an
extra Ђ500 million for risk the reduction studies requested
by industry. Airbus avers this led to development problems
regarding the horizontal tail surface, the definition of the
wing design and weight estimates.
The Senators say European countries, at least, will be able
to cancel its orders from April, should they chose to do so
as the delay in achieving first flight will then exceed a
contractual 14 month cap.
“The contract foresees that if first flight is delayed by
more than 14 months, governments can abandon the program and
recover funds they have paid,” the report says. “As first
flight was initially scheduled for January 2008, this means
that [cancellation] will become legally feasible by the
early Spring 2009….in these conditions, the program’s future
will be settled by April”, defence-aerospace translates the
document as saying.
“The fact that cancellation is a real option, even if an
unlikely one, is significant because it provides governments
with a powerful bargaining weapon as EADS and Airbus press
for renegotiation to escape heavy financial penalties,” the
online publication adds.
EADS and Airbus are trying to convince governments to amend
technical specifications they now see as unrealistic, to
reduce especially harsh penalty clauses, and to amend
unfavorable price escalation clauses. “It is probable that,
in the short and medium terms, the [current contract] will
produce large losses” for industry, the report states.
France is reportedly not opposed to renegotiation, but
Germany wants the contract to be completed as signed, while
British Defense Secretary John Hutton has explicitly
threatened to pull out as a delay of three to four years for
initial deliveries is “unacceptable.”
Other partner governments have not publicly stated their
position. The Senate report cautions that “the rigid
enforcement of the contract would ‘fragilise’ EADS,” the
corporate parent of Airbus.
Airbus has said it is not seeking extra cash and that the
contract changes it seeks would not cost European taxpayers
extra money. Chief Operating Officer Fabrice Brйgier earlier
this month told the French daily Les Echos that Airbus is
“not asking for penalties to be lifted, but to be spread out
over a new timetable that is both credible and binding."
The manufacturer’s position is that, since the
responsibility for the delays is shared by governments and
by subcontractors, it should not be alone in suffering the
The Senatorial report recommends that the Ђ20 billion
contract should be renegotiated to avoid “even more negative
operational and industrial consequences” including US
domination of the air lifter market.
South African companies involved in the A400M project are
risk-sharing partners Denel Saab Aerostructures and Aerosud
as well as Saab South Africa and Omnipless.