Thursday, January 17, 2013

Airbus says A400M military plane to enter service soon

The European aircraft manufacturer Airbus said on Thursday that it was on track to deliver its badly-needed new A400M transport plane to the French air force in the second quarter of this year, after its latest problems with engines was resolved.

"We have overcome this engine problem, which had delayed certification" of a cutting-edge plane that could mark a big step forward in logistics capacity for the eight countries which have bought it, Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier told a press conference in Toulouse, southern France.

He hailed efforts by the companies that have collaborated on the plane's innovative eight-bladed propeller engines, including Rolls-Royce, Safran of France, the German company MTU and ITP of Spain, which together formed a joint venture named Euro Prop International (EPI).

Test flights that had been suspended for several months were "resumed in November and we totalled 300 test hours in 26 days," Bregier noted.

"The first delivery to France was pushed back slightly from the first quarter to the second quarter of 2013," he said, adding that Airbus would not have to pay any penalties for the delay.

France in particular needs to get the A400M into service as its limited airlift capacity was demonstrated again by the conflict in Mali, where Belgium, Britain, Denmark and Germany have extended help delivering material and troops from France and contributing African countries.

"We have again today the confirmation that transport aircraft are decisive assets in all sorts of conflicts, security operations or rescues: France does not have this capacity and we have demonstrated the A400M's potential," Bregier said.

The four-engine aircraft was designed to replace C-130 Hercules and C-160 Transall cargo planes, and can perform three major roles, according to Airbus, including tactical missions that require the ability to land at "austere airfields" such as soft or rough strips as short as 750 metres (2,500 feet) with a payload of up to 25 tonnes (55,000 pounds).

That makes the plane suited for direct deployment on humanitarian aid missions to disaster-hit regions.

In a strategic role, the plane can fly up to 8,700 kilometres (5,400 miles) with a payload of up to 37 tonnes (81,600 pounds), including dissasembled helicopters or two heavy armoured vehicles, and reach altitudes of up to 40,000 feet (12,000 metres).

Finally, the A400M can be adapted in two hours for use as an air refuelling tanker able to serve two planes or helicopters at a time.

In an airdrop capacity, the transport plane can operate from as high as 40,000 feet for special operations purposes to as low as 15 feet for low-level load deliveries, Airbus said, and "can carry more paratroopers than any other Western-built military aircraft," with 116 fully equipped soldiers.

A total of 174 of the planes have been ordered to date, with four currently in the final assembly stage, and scheduled for delivery this year.


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