Friday, January 23, 2009

A400M: This "truck" ain't flying for a while yet

A horse fully flogged and mouldering (from AW&ST, Jan. 19, p. 35, text subscriber only):
EADS Wants More Time and Money for A400M

Europe’s grand plan for a military airlifter is at risk of coming undone
Printed headline: Trials and Tribulations

EADS and Airbus are not only seeking years more time to complete A400M development, but additional financial support as well. Industry likely has one final opportunity to rescue the program before the patience of at least some partner nations is exhausted.

Senior Airbus executives warn that they are unwilling to carry on with the A400M as presently structured.

“We want to continue the program, but in a way that ensures success,” says CEO Tom Enders. “With the current contractual and organizational set-up we will not get there. This is a ‘mission impossible.’”

Tom Williams, Airbus executive vice president for programs, concurs: “We think it would be irresponsible to continue on the current track.” According to Williams, the program needs to be placed on a “realistic, solid footing in terms of schedule, organization and financially.”..

As yet, Airbus has no estimate of how much more could be required for the program. Williams says the company has “no idea on the cost to complete,” adding that the priority is to conclude the ongoing program assessment.

When launched, the A400M was trumpeted as a military development on a civil aircraft timescale, an approach that has proved fundamentally flawed.

While its engine is now being test flown on a C-130, the Airbus A400M remains on the ground.Credit: AIRBUS MILITARY

There are obvious signs of exasperation among the seven core partners following EADS’s proposal that production delivery of the aircraft not begin until three years from first flight, which had been scheduled for November 2007. The latest proposed slippage, according to British Defense Minister John Hutton, is “unacceptable.”

“We cannot accept a three- or four-year delay in the delivery of those aircraft. That would impose an unnecessary, unacceptable strain on our air assets,” Hutton said in response to a question in Parliament. “We, along with all our partner nations, will have to consider very carefully what the right response to the problem is.”..

While the immediate focus for the delay is on the lack of a flightworthy full-authority digital engine control system for the prototype aircraft, [EADS CEO Louis] Gallois claims that EADS, its suppliers and the customers “completely underestimated the nature of the program . . . .We thought it was a flying truck.”

Development of the TP400-D6 turboprop engine, in general, has been a cause of delay [Pratt & Whitney Canada got screwed on the engine selection--and see the final para here], though questions about the aircraft’s propulsion have also served to mask other problem areas in the A400M program...

France was originally due to introduce the aircraft into service at the end of 2009, though now 2012 seems probable. Production ramp-up for the A400M is also likely to be slowed, leading to fewer early delivery slots. The RAF may have to wait until 2014-15.

The Defense Ministry is already in discussions over additional Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin C-130J transport aircraft as it considers how to address the capability gap left by the latest A400M lags. The RAF has six C-17s, and its fleet could now grow to nine or 10 [emphasis added]...
Then there's this:
A400M Problems Range Far Beyond Engines

PARIS – Airbus is facing much more than just contractual and schedule challenges in its A400M military airlifter program, as the aircraft may need massive re-engineering work to achieve its performance targets.

In turn, numerous issues threaten to make the A400M a less attractive and capable aircraft for its customers, industry sources tell Aviation Week. They come in addition to the well-publicized delays in the flight-test program that are linked to the lagging engine full authority digital engine control (FADEC) development (Aerospace DAILY, Nov. 25, 2008).

One key area of concern appears to be the A400M being overweight, which would negatively affect the aircraft’s payload and range capabilities. Sources close to the program say the aircraft is significantly heavy in its current development status. The first six units to be used in the flight-test program are 12 tons heavier than planned, those sources say. A weight savings campaign has identified a reduction potential of 7 tons. Early production aircraft will only incorporate reductions of 5 tons at the most, leaving payload below the 30-ton mark [emphasis added--and see this post from June 2006]...


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