With three A400Ms on the tarmac behind him, Rafael Tentor, Airbus Military's senior vice president programs said today in Seville that "we do not expect competition in the years to come" for this aircraft. And, sounding slightly relieved, he said the difficulties encountered in the program to give this military transport aircraft the level of comfort, noise and certification of a civilian aircraft had all been overcome. "We are there," he said, adding that the aircraft "has demonstrated its capability."
He repeated the oft-pronounced statement that the very few, costly strategic airlifters such as the An-124 and C-17 "cannot airlift heavy and outsize loads directly to unpaved airstrips", while airlifters such as the C-130 could but "cannot accommodate heavy and outsize loads." The A400M can carry these types of loads and can take them straight to their point of need as it can land anywhere save on water.
Ian Elliott, head of defense capability marketing, undertook the interesting exercise of imagining that the French Air Force -- which will receive the first A400M in June -- had already been able to use it in the on-going operation in Mali. He said it would have enabled outsize and heavy equipment to be delivered from France directly to Northern Mali unpaved airstrips; it would have given France independence from reliance on allies to provide airlift; and would have been safer as it avoided the need for the highly vulnerable ground convoys set up to get the equipment from a port in Senegal or the paved airstrip at Bamako (Mali's capital) to the point of need in Northern Mali 900 kms away. And currently "one Transall does four trips a day to take water to the troops in northern Mali. With an A400M this could be reduced to one trip every two days."
Tentor explained that negotiations are being launched this year with Turkey (which requires additional units to the 10 A400Ms it has already bought) and "countries in the north of Europe". He is even considering the United States as a potential market: "Why not? There is a huge gap between the C130 and C17 and no project to fill it. We believe we have a chance in the United States in the mid- and long-term." Watch this space!