is “firmly committed” to delivering the first to the French air force before the Paris Air Show, toward the end of May or early June, says Cedric Gautier, head of the A400M program.
“With the level of readiness technically and industrially we can do it,” Gautier says.
France will still get its first aircraft more than three years later than originally planned, and with a series of capability upgrades set to follow, the first aircraft will only have an initial operating clearance, essentially allowing its use as a freighter with no significant additional military functionality.
Occar and Airbus Military have also signed the initial in-service support (ISS) contract spanning the first 18 months of operations for the French aircraft. Occar is the intergovernmental organization that negotiates A400M contracts on behalf of France, Germany, the U.K., Turkey, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg.
First delivery will be a key milestone. But it is also only the beginning of a busy period of production ramp up and capability upgrades that will be completed in 2018, when the aircraft’s full capabilities are to be available. Airbus Military expects(EASA) certification for the aircraft over the next few days. “All documents have been released. Certification is imminent,” it said.
MSN007, the first aircraft for the French air force, has already been transferred to the flight test center and is expected to make its first flight in the March 2-6 time frame. The delivery process is to be started around mid-April and expected to last six weeks.
If Airbus can stick to the schedule, it will have been able to achieve first delivery of the much-delayed A400M and first flight of thebefore the Paris Air Show. The new civil widebody is also expected to fly before Le Bourget, provided no major issues arise before then.
Four additional aircraft are currently in various stages of completion in the Seville final assembly line. MSN008 will also be delivered to France, along with MSN010 and MSN011. MSN009 is going to be Turkey’s first aircraft.
Airbus Military expects the first parts for MSN012 to arrive within the next two weeks. The company wants to deliver four aircraft in 2013 and 10 in 2014, all of which will enter the final assembly process before the end of this year. Production of parts has been launched for aircraft up to MSN029.
In addition to France and Turkey, the U.K. is planned to receive its first aircraft in September 2014, followed by Germany in November, Malaysia in January 2015 and Spain in January 2016.
The latest of many snags leading to the delay was the detection of metallic chips in the oil system in one of MSN006’sengines. Airbus was forced to suspend the function and reliability testing campaign after 160 of 300 planned flight hours. F&R testing was then completed in December 2012. One of the test aircraft was taken to Northern Canada in February for the cold-weather campaign, in which the aircraft was exposed to temperatures up to minus 32 degrees Celsius.
The A400M will get its first upgrade to standard operational capability 1 (SOC1) before year’s end, which will allow initial aerial delivery and self-protection. That is to be followed by SOC1.5 in late 2014 and SOC2 another year later. According to Gautier, upgrades up to SOC1.5 are likely to be performed in Seville because they also involve some hardware changes. But from SOC2 onward they are expected to be implemented at the various main operational bases because they are limited to software adaptation. The final step to SOC3 will clear the aircraft for low-level flight.