Decision time approaches for launch customers of the A400. Cancel, reduce numbers or stay with the programme…
Domingo Ureña-Raso, the recently appointed Head of Airbus Military is an professional engineer with a strong reputation, recently outlined so of the issues surrounding the troubled A400 programme and how he intends to get it back on course. The original contract was optimistic to say the least, Airbus had no military experience, there was a shortage of engineers and a number of other structural factors all conspired to bring us to where we are now, over budget and late.
The solution as outlined is to create a new streamlined centre of excellence in Spain (birthplace of Domingo)
It has recently emerged why the troublesome engine has been at the root of so much of the delay, a paperwork ‘gaffe’
Although almost every part of the programme has had issues the one with the highest profile has been the TP400-D6 engine, a product of the Europrop Consortium, members include Snecma, ITP, MTU and Rolls Royce. Only recently did the consortium realise that the FADEC (Full Authority Digital Control) software didn’t meet European civil aviation standards because all changes had not been documented and could therefore not be validated. The only way forward was a complete rewrite which of course took a long time. It has been reported that this has now been completed and the first flight should be sometime this summer, after which full scale testing can begin in earnest.
The UK will make its decision in July and will be about politics as well as capability. I am a strong advocate of staying with the programme but in these difficult financial ties can equally see the benefits of cancellation. However, cancellation will come at the price of many UK jobs and will any government not factor this in their decision making at any time, yet alone in a massive recession.
Liam Fox, the Conservative Shadow Defence Secretary has described the programme as a fiasco so no prizes for guessing the Conservative view but this seems to stem from the politics of European integration rather than any sound understanding of the technical or performance requirements.
A revised delivery programme is expected to be discussed in early summer with all partners making their decisions on that.
Whilst there is no doubt that the programme has been poorly managed up to now and the problems of weight, cost, specification and timings are very real one should put these into some context. The original estimates were wildly overoptimistic but even with a number of years delay and several billions over budget it will still be a comparatively successful programme in comparison with the much feted C17.
I think cancellation in unlikely but a reduction in numbers might be a likely option for the UK.