OPINION: Can Airbus bear weight of A400M Atlas?

Flightglobal Aviation Connected Logo


By all rights, the Airbus Defence & Space A400M should be a soar-away success story in both the ­domestic and export markets – but at the moment the programme is looking dangerously vulnerable.

Given its promised capabilities and the absence of any direct competitor – it slots neatly between the out-of-production Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin ­C-130J – the Atlas stood a very real chance of becoming Europe’s Hercules, if you pardon the mixed mythology.

In fact, there have even been suggestions that the tactical transport could be sold to the USA – a ­holy grail for any European programme. However, that ­prospect currently seems further away than ever.

Each time the A400M appears to have got back on track, a fresh crisis erupts.

At the moment engines, or more specifically the GE Avio-produced power gearbox, are the major cause for concern – limiting flying hours between inspections and disrupting ­delivery flow.

Asset ImageAirbus Defence & Space

In addition, the manufacturer has only just delivered the first of the tactical capabilities it promised to customers, more than two years since the first example was handed over to launch customer France.

Of course, every programme has its teething troubles and Airbus is hardly alone in this field. But when they become so numerous, it is tempting to wonder if there is some systemic malaise afflicting the aircraft or its production system.

Defence procurements which are linked to national participation in a programme often seem ripe for logistical or manufacturing woe, adding as they do, a layer of complexity and additional points of potential failure.

What is particularly frustrating in the case of the A400M is that Airbus has proved perfectly capable of designing and executing military aircraft.

Take the A330 multi-role tanker transport, for example. Sure, it is based on a mature commercial platform, but it is already assuming the status of market leader.

And compare its development hiccups to the travails being experienced by Boeing on the KC-46, which is based on a similarly proven airliner.

Of course, Airbus may yet turn the A400M’s fortunes around; recent progress on delivering tactical capability is a positive step.

But until the current engine gearbox deficiencies are addressed it will remain a source of frustration to its customers and a cash-drain on the company.

At the moment, Atlas appears to have the weight of the world on its shoulders.


Actually there is the Antonov An-70 Medium-range transport aircraft

Antonov An-70: Details

Related post:

Looming capability gap in Germany’s military transport fleet may result in the MoD to urge A400M partner nations to procure & jointly operate C-130 Hercules

German Air Force may look to acquire additional transport aircraft

Airbus to swap out parts & components of its troubled A400M aircraft after cracks were found

Airbus Reports A400M Engine Gearbox Problems Will Cause Delays

New issues surrounding the propeller gear boxes on the Airbus A400M will not affect delivery

Airbus A400M military transport plane hits more trouble

German Air Force may look to acquire additional transport aircraft

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s