Airbus will have to discontinue test flights of its new A400M military cargo planes following Spain's withdrawal of permits in the wake of Sunday's tragic crash in Seville.
Spain’s Defence Ministry decided to ground Airbus’s planes under construction at its facilities near Seville until investigators determine the cause of the accident that killed four and critically injured two crew members.
Four of the five countries that already operate A400Ms - Britain, Germany, Malaysia and Turkey - have grounded their fleets, with France saying it will only use the aircraft in urgent circumstances.
Spain’s defence minister Pedro Morenes told Spain's Onda Cero radio station today that it would not be a good idea to continue test flights of planes in production without knowing what really happened with the crashed aircraft.
The suspension of test flights will likely result in delivery delays, which could cause further problems to Airbus. The company has been criticised in the past for its handling of a project that has been plagued by delays and cost overruns.
"We are working very closely with the military authorities as well as our customers to manage this situation," Airbus said in a statement.
The investigation is underway but no details will be released in the progress as the Andalusian justice department in Seville placed a secrecy order on the investigations.
Morenes said probes involving such planes are complicated and the need to know what happened as soon as possible should not interfere with the rigour necessary in a proper investigation.
He said human and technological factors would be taken into account but added that the possibility that the pilot might have manoeuvred the plane in the final moments to avoid a more serious accident may provide a clue to what happened.
"It appears that the pilot made a manoeuvre to try to avoid worse things happening in the accident," Morenes said without elaborating on the details.
Some media outlets cited Airbus Sevilla union representative Francisco Figueroa as saying that the pilot, by landing the plane in a field, apparently avoided crashing it into a nearby shopping centre and factories.
The permit suspension will not affect a planned A400M test flight from Toulouse, France, to Seville.
Fernando Alonso, the head of military aircraft at Airbus Defence and Space, is expected to take part in the test as a flight engineer in a symbolic show of confidence in the plane.
Alonso took up his post in January after Airbus dismissed his predecessor following complaints by governments about continued delays in finishing the cargo plane whose rollout went billions over budget and years over deadline.
The A400M, designed to replace older transport aircraft, such as the Transall C-160 and the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, was developed as part of a €20bn programme. Deliveries started in 2013 after years of delays. In 2010 the programme faced cancellation and was only saved after an intervention of European governments.
The plane, which can also perform electronic surveillance and aerial refuelling missions has already been ordered by eight mostly European countries.