LONDON and PARIS – Domingo Ureña-Raso, who oversaw development of the Airbus A400M, has been forced to resign because of delays in getting the airlifter into service.

Ureña-Raso, executive vice president for Military Aircraft at Airbus Defense and Space, resigned Jan. 29, effective immediately. He will be replaced by Fernando Alonso, currently head of Flight and Integration Tests and one of the leaders in Airbus’ highly successful, fast-paced test program for the A350 airliner.

Alonso will take over on March 1, while Bernhard Gerwert, CEO of Airbus Defense and Space, will stand in to oversee the business segment until then, according to a memo sent to employees.

Ureña-Raso had led the troubled A400M program since February 2009, guiding it through some of its most challenging stages. But delays in introducing new capabilities, through the so-called Standard Operating Clearances (SOCs), prompted a ratcheting up of political pressure on the company. This was particularly the case in Germany, where Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen was recently critical of the company’s handling of the A400M. Turkey and France also have expressed concerns.

Germany had expected its first aircraft to be fitted with tactical capabilities provided with SOC 1.5. But the German air force’s first aircraft – delivered in December – is only equipped with SOC 1. SOC 1.5 capabilities are expected to be featured on new-build aircraft late this year.

Speaking to reporters in Paris Jan. 29, Airbus Group President Tom Enders said there is no doubt Airbus will face penalties if it cannot deliver on A400M capabilities.

"Certainly we’ll have to pay penalties. We’ll have to undertake commitments with certain timelines, which if we don’t fulfill, we will owe our customers money," Enders said. "But this time around I will not go to our customers and request additional funding. That was necessary and appropriate in 2010. This time around this will not happen. It is the company that needs to fix it."

Enders described the situation as "significant," but "not a catastrophe," and said the company will persist with the program despite the difficulties.

"There is no single program underway, certainly not in the western world, that rivals A400M," he said. "That said, we have delays in deliveries, in upgrading military functionalities. It’s embarrassing to the company to a certain extent."

Earlier this week, Enders apologized for the delays at an event in London, and said there would be "management and organizational consequences." It appears Ureña-Raso is the highest-profile victim of those changes. He will "pursue other activities within the group," the memo says.

A monitoring board will be established that reports directly to Gerwert on A400M progress. It is necessary because of what Gerwert described as the "critical status of the program."

Rafael Tentor will remain responsible for the A400M, while the aircraft’s industrial program will become part of the divisional operations department led by Pilar Albiac-Murillo.

"I expect that the new team will rapidly address existing shortfalls in the most efficient way," Gerwert said in a statement. "We [Airbus Defense & Space] have not been performing at the level which had been expected from us. That is unacceptable and we will fix that.

"We are fully conscious of how dependent the customer nations are on this new airlifter and therefore take their concerns very seriously. We will do our utmost to overcome them so the customers receive the aircraft they need in the shortest time possible," he said.

Airbus says the A400M’s military capabilities including aerial delivery, cargo handling systems, self-defense systems and air-to-air refueling using wing-mounted pods will be integrated in the second half of this year. The company also says flight testing is continuing at a high pace. Airbus is also working on a revised delivery schedule with partner nations, due to be released in the coming months.