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A400M Technical Problems

Numerous limitations and problems with the model caused delay in the operational tests. The development of the four-engine Airbus plane has become a saga of faults and misfires. Initially, its main problem was being overweight, and thus unable to carry the military vehicles it needed to.

On 17 October 2007 EADS informed its A400M customers, including OCCAR, of its revised estimate for the first aircraft deliveries schedule. The re-scheduling of the program was driven by the slow progress in engine development, which stood on the critical path to achieving first flight, schedule overruns in the systems development, and a flight test program that differs significantly from that of commercial Airbus aircraft.

Cracks were discovered in the fuselage of some delivered A400M models. To observers the A400M material debacle was evidence of the risks from the competition for new aircraft materials. On the one side are the major producers of aluminum alloys such as Alcoa (USA) or Constellium (Netherlands), who feared for their business since high-strength and lightweight carbon fiber materials hold (CFRP) have become more widely used in aircraft.

Airbus pointed out that neither the flight safety or operational capability was impaired. In 2011 an aluminum alloy showed "a previously unknown material behavior". Since the first A400M model made its first flight there were abnormalities in components made of modern aluminum-zinc alloys. The experts were baffled, since the aluminum alloy was approved for use in 2008. Therefore, the A400M deliveries began from fall of 2013, first to France. Two years later the stress tests in Airbus laboratories first caused suspicion.

In May 2015, one A400M intended for Turkey's air force crashed during a test flight in Spain as a result of engine failure caused by a software glitch. In response, Germany was one of several countries to ground all their A400Ms.

By 2016 the engines of all A400M with more than 200 flight hours total running time were examined after 20 hours of flight time. In practice, this meant that after each extended long-haul flight, the engines must be checked. The extremely powerful engines, each with 11,000 hp, have been in the past a weak point of the aircraft. In particular, the transmission provoked worries. It is manufactured by the Italian manufacturer Avio, of the US group General Electric. A400M experts spoke of several problems with the drive, including an excessive wear of the giant propellers, which are about five meters in diameter.

The "Bild" newspaper reported 01 April 2016 that that parts of the propeller engines could not cope with extreme temperatures and that individual parts of the engine were found to have "material flaws." The newspaper also claimed that one engine on a British A400M had cut out during a flight, though this had not yet happened to the three planes already owned by Germany's air force.

The Defense Ministry confirmed the report: "Yes, it's true that the airplane manufacturer has found problems with the propeller engine," a spokeswoman for the ministry told the Reuters news agency before adding that the Italian company that manufactures the engines for Airbus was analyzing the problems and that Airbus had offered to repair the engines free of charge. The ministry added that the nine new A400Ms that Germany had already ordered - which are currently being manufactured - were also being checked, though it remained unclear when they would be delivered. "We don't yet have a current delivery plan for this year," the spokeswoman said.

By February 2017 just one of Germany's eight A400M planes was in service, with three in repair, three going through routine inspections and one being refurbished.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2017 19:30:07 ZULU