Airbus A400M aircraft in flight

Operational use of A400M is ‘in jeopardy’, says German ministry

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In a confidential report, the German Defence Ministry has warned that operation of the A400M military transport plane could be affected by technical and legal obstacles.

The A400M was ordered in 2003 to give Europe an independent military transport capability.

The new aircraft, a four-engine turboprop airlifter, was designed by Airbus Military, and can perform aerial refuelling and medical evacuation. It was intended to replace long-serving transport planes used by European nations, such as the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and the Transall C-160.

Seven Nato countries are in the €20bn project, which is Europe’s largest defence venture.

The report, seen by Reuters, said that “Given the under-financing of the programme and the expected demands for delay-related damages, Airbus will not make the needed investments to carry out required improvements.”

“The operational use of the plane is therefore in jeopardy.”

The A400M programme has been frequently beset by delays, cancellations and escalating costs. Between 2009 and 2010, it faced abandonment as a result of delays and cost overruns. Airbus warned of “risks ahead” for the A400M project.

Nearly 50 units have been manufactured so far, with several already in service, including with the RAF.

According to the German ministry’s report, Airbus could request delays of between 12 and 18 months to resolve issues relating to the operational use of the plane, such as the ability to deploy paratroopers, and its defensive measures.

Other problems highlighted in the report included the “operationally unacceptable” amount of time – 50 man-hours required to prepare each aircraft for a new mission, as data had to be coordinated across different systems.

Discussions between customer nations and Airbus have been difficult, with customer nations upholding penalty clauses for delays to the programme. Due to delivery delays, the German government is withholding payments to Airbus, and is likely to continue to do so until after the country’s national elections in autumn.

According to a spokesperson for the German Defence Ministry, the A400M is a capable aircraft, but does not have all the capabilities required by its contract. Airbus is contractually obliged to find solutions to these problems.

“We are watching the project’s development very closely,” she said.

The ministry reported that Germany could face a capability gap when its current military transport aircraft, the Transall C-160, retires from service. Its Transall fleet, which has accumulated more than one million flight hours, was due to retire in 2018. This date was pushed back due to delays with the A400M programme.

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