Airbus’ A400M Plane Delayed 6-12 Months
By TIM HEPHER and BENOIT VAN OVERSTRAETEN, REUTERS, PARIS
Airbus is facing a delay of at least six months and possibly up to a year in deliveries of its A400M military airlifter, in the latest blow to the European planemaker as it rebounds from delays to its A380 passenger jet.
A source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Oct. 16 that deliveries of the heavylifter, developed for seven European NATO nations at a cost of 20 billion euros, would be pushed back at least six months past the target date of October 2009.
Checks carried out for Airbus parent EADS have also identified risks that the deliveries could slide back six months further for a total a delay of up to one year, the source said.
Another source close to the matter said EADS was poised to give the exact scope of the delays affecting the A400M soon.
“EADS may release tonight or tomorrow a statement on the A400M to specify the delay on the aircraft’s delivery,” the source told Reuters.
EADS declined to comment on the contents of its findings, but a spokesman for the aerospace group in Germany confirmed it would issue a statement concerning the A400M on Oct. 17.
The A400M is Europe’s largest military project. Although far less in the public eye than Airbus’s mammoth A380 superjumbo, it was developed at almost twice the A380’s cost and any delays would trigger automatic penalties built into the contract.
Military planners have been bracing for setbacks for months after Airbus Military, the planemaker’s defense subsidiary, announced a three-month delay in its first flight due in 2008.
France is due to take the first turbo-prop A400M aircraft.
Reuters reported earlier this month that the internal target date for the first flight had slipped back to May 2008 from the first quarter.
Tom Williams, executive vice president for programs at Airbus, said on Oct. 15 the aircraft’s maiden flight was now considered likely to slip back another two months until July or beyond, making it difficult to deliver the plane in 2009.
The first flight was originally scheduled for January 2008.
The fresh delay cast a shadow over celebrations for the first delivery of the double-decker A380 to Singapore Airlines on Oct. 15 after that aircraft was delayed by up to two years. But reported problems have not reached the scale of the A380’s woes.
Accused of mishandling a trio of announcements over the A380 delays in the past two years, EADS hopes to limit damage from the A400M delays by quickly announcing the results of an audit.
EADS Chief Executive Louis Gallois warned in August the deliveries could be delayed.
The delays could result in further financial provisions.
Aircraft makers generally get paid on delivery, making that milestone the most important for financial performance.
The A400M was conceived as Europe’s answer to the ageing Lockheed C-130 Hercules, a military workhorse built to slip troops and equipment into the world’s most rugged hotspots.
Management of a consortium including France’s Snecma and Rolls-Royce has been revamped to fix problems on the A400M’s propeller engine, which features the longest propeller blades ever designed.
Problems have also emerged with development software for computer systems that control the engines, known as FADEC.
The sale of 180 A400M’s to a block of seven European nations in 2003 was the continent’s biggest ever single arms order.
The seven launch customers are France, Germany, Spain, Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Turkey.
Exports to South Africa and Malaysia brought the total of aircraft sold to 192, but a sale to Chile was cancelled