Last year saw the Airbus A400M airlifter achieve some significant milestones while the program also worked to resolve a technical issue with the aircraft engine’s gearbox.
“Overall the aeroplane is a significantly better, more capable aeroplane than it was a year ago,” said Fernando Alonso, head of military aircraft for Airbus Defence and Space, at the Avalon Airshow on Tuesday.
“We’ve gone from a purely cargo aeroplane to a tactical aeroplane.”
The A400M is now certified to drop paratroopers and air loads, and can operate from unpaved runways, while the second iteration of its defensive suite has been rolled out, Alonso explained.
“The aeroplanes we are now delivering are tactical aeroplanes,” said Alonso, with 18 A400Ms handed over to customers in 2016, just short of Airbus’s target of around 20.
The main reason for the lower delivery rate was an issue with the aircraft engine’s advanced gearbox, which Alonso labelled as a “crisis”. But an interim fix implemented in 2016 has increased inspection intervals for the gearbox from just 20 flight hours to 600, Alonso explained.
“It was a difficult year but overall production is under control and the capabilities are getting better.”
For 2017, says Alonso, the focus now shifts to marketing the aircraft for new export orders.
“This year is the year we are going to be focusing on selling the aeroplane, promoting the aeroplane. That is why we are here.”
Alonso comes to Avalon after visiting New Zealand where Airbus is marketing the A400M to meet a requirement to replace the RNZAF’s C-130H Hercules and Boeing 757 transports.
Australia is a longer-term potential prospect for the A400M, given Defence’s Integrated Investment Program released in February 2016 detailed a requirement for new heavy airlifters which are expected to replace the RAAF’s C-130Js.
But, said Alonso, “We’re at the point where we want to sell this aeroplane, we need to sell this aeroplane. So whether it is today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, we will be engaged with them. I think we have the right product and we are developing it more and more, so we will be here.
“If Australia wants the aeroplane tomorrow, the day after tomorrow we’ll be here offering it.”
A Royal Air Force A400M is on display at Avalon, having crossed the Tasman from New Zealand where it was on display at the RNZAF’s Air Tattoo on the weekend.