MUNICH, Germany – America is key to export sales of the A400M Atlas, as Airbus Defence and Space prepares to pitch the airlifter to the biggest Western military market amid recent technical troubles.
“The US will be our target, but clearly not today,” Fernando Alonso, head of the company’s military aircraft division, told journalists June 20. The European company is still focusing on fixing cracks on its propeller gearbox and cracks on the central part of the fuselage on some aircraft.
Airbus DS has forecast foreign sales of at least 200 A400Ms in the next 30 years, with the US as the largest prospective client nation. The company relies on winning exports to avoid a large financial hit.
Airbus DS is drawing on lessons learned from losing a US tender to Boeing for an inflight refueling aircraft, and the European company will present the A400M to political and military leaders.
Flying an Atlas to Washington and presenting the plane to the Air Force are among the planned moves aimed at navigating through a complex US procurement procedure.
There already is American content in the A400M, and the share of that equipment would rise if a US deal were to be sealed. No details were immediately available, but the four-engine turboprop could be assembled in Mobile, Alabama, where Airbus built a factory for the A320 airliner.
Airbus staff in the US are drafting a marketing program, which will draw on an expected strategic plan with a focus on digital systems and connectivity capabilities that will be proposed on the range of military aircraft built by the European manufacturer.
But a focus on fixing technical problems has slowed the export effort.
“The export campaigns are more difficult, and I prefer to talk about this when we have found the solutions for the issues we are experiencing,” Alonso said. “But as I am convinced that it is a great aircraft, our determination remains intact.”
Those issues require fixing the propeller gearbox on the engine and replacing an aluminium alloy with a more traditional material to avoid cracks on the central fuselage.
Airbus expects two planes to have flown 100 hours by June 24 to test an interim Avio propeller gearbox replacing the present system.
“Cracking is not a safety issue,” Alonso said. “Safety is guaranteed by inspection intervals.”
Once the interim fix is installed, the gearbox will be inspected every 600 flight hours compared to the current 20 hours.
A long-term solution of a new gearbox from General Electric and Italian subisidary Avio is expected to be delivered next year.
The parent company, Airbus group, said May 10 the cost of the modifications could be “significant.” Airbus so far has incurred €5 billion ($5.7 billion) of charges on problems with the A400M.
Airbus DS expects to unveil a revised delivery schedule in two or three weeks, factoring in production of the modified gearbox and fitting in certain “tactical” capabilities that the planes presently lack.
France was the first country to receive a tactical version with the June 8 delivery to the Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office. That plane included cockpit protection for the flight crew as one of the required modifications.
French aerospace lab Onera has conducted research and development to find an aerial refueling system for helicopters, a key French requirement, said Miguel Angel Morell, head of engineering at Airbus DS.
The plan is to flight-test a small-diameter fuel hose up to 120 feet in length by the end of the year, extending it from the standard 80-90 feet. A longer hose is needed to allow helicopter pilots to see the tailplane during the fuel transfer and cut the turbulence of flying behind the four powerful TP-400 turboprop engines from Europrop International. Airbus DS is working with Airbus Helicopter for the test flight.
In January, France ordered four C-130J transport aircraft, including two refueling KC-130J models, as the army and special forces called for a quick response to a capability gap.
There is a modification of installing a small step to allow 116 paratroopers to jump from both sides of the fuselage, with 58 from each side door. A full test jump of 116 troops is due by the end of the year. These would be alternate jumps, with work ongoing to enable a simultaneous jump from both doors.
Airbus seems unlikely to bid in a US tender for a second batch of air tankers. There is little interest for the Air Force to fly two types of aircraft, said Jean-Pierre Talamoni, head of sales and marketing.
A Vietnamese delegation has visited Airbus DS and shown “serious interest” in the C-295 light airlifter, he said. Vietnam is “an extremely promising country” with high potential demand for transport aircraft, he said.
Original post @defensenews.com