By Ryszard Jaxa-Malachowski,
AWN Central European correspondent
BERLIN - With Airbus Military Co now close to launching its A400M project, the Future Large Aircraft (FLA) concept announced at the beginning of the last decade will finally materialize.
The aircraft presented at the ILA press conference is still very much a paper airplane, but its real shape is already visible. The program launch is scheduled for the end of this year.
Since the FLA was first proposed, the average age of transport aircraft has reached 25 with few deliveries of new C-130Js replacing them. Airbus Military wants to fulfill the needs of its partners with internal requirement for 155 units and some 200 export sales.
The internal orders strongly depended on the final decision of the German government whether or not to order A400Ms. Germany gave its blessing and financial backing to the program late last week. Meanwhile the five engaged nations agreed upon the final configuration, and now the official formalization of national positions is expected.
Before the end of this year, the program will be launched as initial contracts with the involved governments are signed. If this goes according to schedule, a maiden flight will occur in 2005 and production deliveries will begin at the break of 2006/7.
The aircraft is to be similar to its initial configuration - a high wing monoplane with four-turboprop engines of so far unspecified type.
The cargo space is 4 m wide and 3.85 m high which gives it twice the capacity of the Lockheed C-130 and two-thirds of that of the Boeing C-17. The maximum payload with 500 NM range will be of 300 kg - over twice more than the nearest competitor, the Antonov An-70.
Also the aircraft is to have grass field capabilities unmatched by current designs. It is planned that the A400M will cruise at level 310 at 400+ knots which is also close to the top speed of the much larger C-17.
AMC wants to take full advantage of its experience collected in civilian programs. The development of aircraft and its certification is to take only 71 months. While management will be internal, the production will benefit the civilian partners, giving wings to BAE Systems, rear fuselage to Alenia, high lift devices to Flabel, front fuselage and ramp to TAI, horizontal surface to CASA and central fuselage and fin to DASA. The cockpit, nose and central wing box will be in the hands of Aerospatiale. The final assembly line is to be located in Spain. The numerous smaller elements have not been allocated yet leaving space for future negotiations and introduction of additional partners.
To profit even more from its achievements, AMC will use spares and maintenance technologies already proven to reduce costs of service of the A400M. The fly away price of the aircraft is to be half that of the C-17, with life cycle costs at the level of 30%.
Marketing efforts to other countries will cost 1.5 billion Euros, which reflects some 20% of the value of the whole program.
However, not all is going so smoothly with the program. The aircraft is lacking engines and significant equipment. Without a designated engine, the ongoing aerodynamic tests are carried out with theoretical engine nacelles and props.
The bid for engines is on, and according to news coming from engine manufacturers the joint approach can be made to get to market.
The A400M casts a shadow on the AN-7, which is still being heavily marketed at the ILA. However, representatives of Airbus Military confirmed their interest to join forces with Antonov and its partners if the Ukrainian company can handle rules and fixed price concepts, of course.