Airbus, a very successful plane maker, has made a name for itself over the past decades as an innovative and reliable commercial aircraft manufacturer. This has not been the case with their military aircraft programme. The best example being the misery surrounding the design and introduction of their A400M transporter.
No match for the Boeing C17 Globemaster
Boeing brought their C17 Globemaster transporter out back in 1991 and kept producing it for the U.S. and other military forces up until 2015. The U.S. still operates around 280 of these for ferrying troops and equipment across the globe. The C17 however was a relatively expensive aircraft to buy and also turned out to be expensive to operate. It’s advantage however was that it could carry almost 77 tons and offered 553 cbm of cargo space. The venerable Lockheed C130 Super Hercules which first came on the market in 1956 and is still being produced today, can carry up to 22 tons, operate out of short distance dirt strips and is popular with military and commercial operators. It is however also expensive to run as fuel consumption is said to be very high.
Airbus which started production of the A400M with its giant counter-rotating propellers in 2010, possibly imagined that they could breach the military transporter market with this new transporter. A combined British, Spanish, French and German consortium which has never really got off the ground and has cost airbus billions in compensation payments. The programme has been fraught with setbacks since day one, the latest being massive problems with engine performance and gearbox malfunctions, forcing operators such as the German air force to ground quite a number of theirs. In 2017 19 aircraft were delivered and this number fell to 15 in 2018 and will only be 11 units in 2019.
The A400M as commercial freighter?
The idea was on the table a few years ago, but not really followed up on. Possibly as Airbus had their hands full trying to placate military customers.
But, could this change?
There has been a move by Indonesia’s state-owned Indonesia Trading (ITC) who has made a proposal to operate two Airbus A400M transporters for ferrying cargo between eastern and western outlying areas in the vast Indonesian archipelago. ITC is looking at carrying goods such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals and fertiliser to areas which are only accessible for planes which can operate in and out of short dirt strips. They maintain that the A400M would be ideal for this. It was also reported that as ITC itself does not operate any aircraft, that the Indonesian Air Force has offered to supply the necessary flight and operational crews for such a venture.
A new start for a future A400M commercial transporter? Airbus will never recoup the billions that have gone into the sand, but maybe if commercial interest were awakened, then the production line could survive for a while.
John Mc Donagh