PARIS — The second Airbus Military A400M airlifter destined for the French air force has made its first flight in Spain.
The aircraft, MSN8, flew for the first time on June 7 and is due for delivery in the third quarter of this year. The aircraft had been due to fly before the end of May, but there had been some timing issues over the handover of the first French aircraft, MSN7, which is currently undergoing acceptance tests by French personnel. Although the aircraft is due to appear at the Paris air show, it is understood the French air force will formally take delivery of the aircraft on July 12, just in time to take part in the Bastille Day flyover of Paris on July 14.
MSN9, which is destined for the Turkish air force, is due to make its first flight by late June.
The delivery will also mark the beginning of marketing efforts to export the aircraft to other countries, beyond the current partners and single export customer, Malaysia. The company sees a requirement for as many as 400 aircraft over the next 30 years. But Rafael Tentor, head of programs, light and medium, and derivatives at Airbus Military, said this was a conservative estimate.
“Between C-130 and C-17, there is no product to fill that gap, and the nearest competitor is 10 years away,” Tentor said. “We are changing the rules of the game.”
Negotiations have been launched with several prospective customers. Tentor suggested that both Malaysia and Turkey may need more aircraft in the future. He would not name specific countries. But he said that nations in the Middle East and Northern Europe, as well as those in North Africa, may also be interested in the aircraft. Algeria, with recent trials of the A330 multi-role tanker transport and a current operator of the C295, is likely one of the countries being touted as a possible A400M customer, given the interest the country has in modernizing and westernizing its military aircraft fleet.
With Germany, France, and more recently Spain expressing the desire to reduce the number of aircraft they will ultimately operate, Airbus Military says it has had no discussions with the joint European Organization on Joint Armament Cooperation, (Occar) on a reduction in the number of aircraft being purchased. In the case of Spain, which originally ordered 27 A400Ms, the government recently decided that it would cut the number of aircraft it will operate to 13 and try to export its remaining 14 on a government-to-government basis. Meanwhile, the Livre Blanc document outlining France’s defense priorities suggested its buy of A400Ms could fall from 52 to 40. Airbus Military officials point out that if countries do go down the route of exporting aircraft, “government-to-government” sales tend to be easier than industry dealings.
Citing France as an example, Cedric Gautier, head of the A400M programs, said: “They need aircraft, dramatically. You saw the story of Mali, the Transall is at the end of its life and there is a real need. Any changes will not concern the first deliveries and the customer has time to discuss with us.”