The A400M is a versatile airlifter responding to the varied needs of world Air Forces and other organisations in the 21st century. It can perform three very different types of duties: it is able to perform both tactical missions directly to the point of need and long range strategic/logistic ones. And it can also serve as an air-to-air refuelling “tanker”. Powered by four unique counter-rotating Europrop International (EPI) TP400 turboprop powerplants, the A400M offers a wide flight envelope in terms of both speed and altitude. It is the ideal airlifter to fulfil the most varied requirements of any nation around the globe in terms of military, humanitarian and other “civic” missions.
The A400M is a military transport aircraft designed to meet the requirements of eight European Air Forces (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom) to replace their fleets of C-130 Hercules and C-160 Transall. These aircraft are currently in service and will become obsolete in the next century. With the A400M, the goal is to standardize Europe's fleet of tactical transports. The relatively larger production run allows greater production rates which will then reduce the prices per aircraft for airframe, engines and spare parts. Moreover, this will provide for an improved interoperability level and the option of consolidating major maintenance operations in a joint industrial consortium. The harmonized military requirements of eight countries have been published in the "European Staff Requirement" (ESR).
The A400M was designed to be the most reliable airlifter ever. By using proven Airbus commercial design concepts and tools, its availability benefits from high component reliability. Its new maintenance concept, which is largely inspired from commercial civil airliner experience, will translate into a very high dispatch reliability of 98.7 per cent at entry into service. This will dramatically reduce life cycle costs. Over twelve years of operation, the mandatory heavy maintenance “down-time” will only require the A400M to be on the ground for only 84 days in total.
Thanks to its superior performance and capabilities, a fleet of eight A400Ms offers the same productivity (measured in tonnes per nm each year) as a fleet of eighteen previous generation tactical airlifters. The Life Cycle Cost of these eighteen previous generation tactical airlifters is 55% higher than the one of the eight A400M fleet and they are unable to transport outsize loads such as helicopters or armoured vehicles including Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, which can be transported by the A400M.
Airbus had been discussed for years as the best military transport aircraft in its class: The A400M can theoretically carry far more cargo over longer distances and at higher speed transport than comparable machines. France already had the smaller Airbus competitor, the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules. It was ordered because it can refuel any helicopter in flight, while the A400M currently cannot, though this was initially planned.
The A400M was launched in 2003 to respond to the combined needs of seven European Nations regrouped within OCCAR (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg, Spain, Turkey and the UK), with Malaysia joining in 2005. This is one of the major reasons for its extreme versatility. Its maiden flight took place on 11th December 2009.
The first Airbus Military A400M military airlifter landed back in Seville, Spain on 11 December 2009 at 14:02. The crew confirmed that the aircraft, known as MSN 1 and its four Europrop International TP400D turboprop engines performed as expected. For its first flight the aircraft took off at a weight of 127 tonnes, carrying 15 tonnes of test equipment including two tonnes of water ballast, compared with its maximum take-off weight of 141 tonnes. As planned, the six-man crew extensively explored the aircraft's flight envelope in direct law, including a wide speed-range, and tested lowering and raising of the landing gear and high-lift devices at altitude. After checking the aircraft's performance in the landing configuration the crew landed back at Seville.
In the first half of 2010 MSN 1 would be joined by two sister aircraft, MSN 2 and MSN 3, followed by MSN 4 by the end of the year. A fifth aircraft joined the program during 2011. This fleet was used for some 3,700 hours of test-flying before first delivery to the French Air Force at the end of 2012. This would be followed by additional military development flying. The type would be certificated by both the civil and military authorities.
The delivery of the first production A400M new generation airlifter was officially celebrated during a 30 September 2013 ceremony held at the Airbus Military Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Seville, Spain. Actual delivery to the French Air Force of the the plane (the first of 50 it is to received) actually took place on 5 August 2013 and came after a delay of 4 years and going over budget by 6.2 billion Euros. The aircraft is to be based at the Bricy Air Base 123 in Orleans and initially used for training, with 2 more aircraft to be delivered by year's end.
An A400M aircraft was involved in an accident near Sevilla (Spain) Airport on May 09, 2015 around 13:00 local time. The aircraft with the serial number MSN023, was making the first production flight and had departed from Sevilla Airport at 12:45 pm local time. Airbus confirmed that of a total crew of 6 on board, 4 of the crew members were killed in the accident. 2 other crew members were in hospital in a serious condition. All crew members were Airbus Defence and Space employees of Spanish nationality.
The A400M flight test program continued unless or until any evidence is found which would suggest that it is not safe to fly. So far no such evidence has emerged. The first test flight since the accident took place on Tuesday 12 May. Development aircraft MSN4 took off from Toulouse at 14:45 and landed at Seville 1hr 50min later. This was a regular test flight which was scheduled before the accident. Fernando Alonso, Head of Airbus Defence and Space Military Aircraft was on board acting as flight test engineer.
Airbus Defence and Space on 19 May 2015 sent an Alert Operator Transmission (AOT) to all operators of the A400M informing them about specific checks to be performed on the fleet. To avoid potential risks in any future flights, Airbus Defence and Space has informed the operators about necessary actions to take. In addition, these results have immediately been shared with the official investigation team. The AOT requires Operators to perform one-time specific checks of the Electronic Control Units (ECU) on each of the aircraft’s engines before next flight and introduces additional detailed checks to be carried out in the event of any subsequent engine or ECU replacement. This AOT results from Airbus Defence and Space’s internal analysis and is issued as part of the Continued Airworthiness activities, independently from the on-going Official investigation.
Airbus said 03 June 2015 that three out of four engines on the plane failed in the crash of an A400M that killed four people. Two members of the crew survived the crash. Airbus blamed the failures on a software problem. Engines 1, 2 and 3 experienced power frozen after lift-off and did not respond to the crew’s attempts to control the power setting in the normal way, whilst engine 4 responded to throttle demands. When the power levers were set to “flight idle” in an attempt to reduce power, the power reduced but then remained at “flight idle” on the three affected engines for the remainder of the flight despite attempts by the crew to regain power.
Airbus Defence and Space recommenced deliveries of Airbus A400M aircraft following the lifting of all remaining flight restrictions on new production aircraft by Spanish regulator DGAM on 18 June 2015. As a result, all A400Ms are now cleared for flight provided they have undergone the checks specified by the manufacturer in the Alert Operator Transmission (AOT) of 19 May 2015. Airbus Defence and Space´s own three development aircraft, and the 12 aircraft delivered to customers prior to the accident were not affected by the restrictions.
The production plan for the year was under review following the accident but still aimed for at least 13 aircraft in 2015, plus up to four more subject to flight-test results due in the summer of 2015.
On the A400M program, good progress was made on the industrial side with 19 aircraft delivered in 2017 compared to 17 in 2016. The production rate was adjusted to recalibrate inventory levels while the military capability roadmap was re-baselined. In 2017, Airbus entered into discussions with OCCAR and the customer Nations that resulted in the signature of a Declaration of Intent (DoI) in February agreeing on a global re-baselining of the contract, including a revised aircraft delivery schedule, an updated technical capability roadmap and a revised retrofit schedule.
The DoI represented an important step towards reaching a contractually binding agreement also mitigating the commercial exposure while satisfying customer needs with regard to capabilities and availability of the aircraft. With a clear roadmap in place, Airbus’ remaining exposure going forward was expected to be more limited. A detailed review of the program concluded in the fourth quarter of 2017 including an estimate of the financial impact of the adaptions on schedule, capabilities and retrofit resulted in an update of the Loss Making Contract provision of € 1,299 million for the year.
Airbus has reached 100 A400M deliveries with MSN111, the tenth A400M for the Spanish Air Force. The aircraft performed its ferry flight on 24 May 2021 from Seville to Zaragoza, where the Spanish A400M fleet is based. The A400M global fleet also achieved the 100,000 flight-hours landmark performing missions worldwide for all eight customer nations.
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