PARIS ― France’s procurement office has revealed it received its 12th A400M airlifter, which is the first in the European program to be fitted with two underwing pods for in-flight refueling of fighter jets.
“The Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) took delivery Nov. 22, 2017, the 12th A400M Atlas military transport aircraft, to be handed over to the Air Force,” the DGA said in a Nov. 30 statement. The A400Ms already in service will have the fuel pod added as they undergo a retrofit over time.
The latest A400M will be flown to the air base at Orleans, south of Paris, in the next few days. France is due to receive a further three A400Ms by 2019, as set out by the 2014-19 military budget law.
The A400M program still poses problems in fitting capabilities and cutting costs, Airbus said Oct. 31 in its nine-month financial results.
“However, achievement of the contractual technical capabilities and associated costs remain highly challenging,” the aircraft company said. The A400M program also faces “challenges” in winning export orders on time, cutting costs, industrial efficiency and commercial exposure, “which could impact the program significantly,” Airbus said.
Talks continue with client nations and OCCAR, the European procurement agency, to “de-risk” the program, the company said.
Airbus Defence and Space is working to deliver two key capabilities sought by France, namely in-flight refueling of helicopters and dropping paratroopers from doors on both sides of the fuselage.
Airbus has signed a contract with Cobham for the British firm to build a hose for helicopter refueling, with a test flight expected toward the end of 2018, an Airbus spokesman said.
Test parachute jumps have been made out the fuselage doors, backed by detailed computer modeling on the aerodynamics, he said. Work continues on increasing weight and various pallets for cargo airdrops from the rear ramp.
Work on finding solutions to meet those and other requirements has eaten into Airbus’ cash pile, prompting the company to ask client nations to put a cap on financial penalties for failing to deliver the capabilities. Germany, for instance, withholds 15 percent of cash as the aircraft fails to meet the contracted capacities.
A planned meeting of ministers in London of seven client nations and Airbus was postponed to February from mid-November, Reuters reported. That meeting is to discuss the company’s request for fines to be capped.
Airbus has so far this year delivered 17 A400Ms, with expectations for 20 shipped by the end of 2017. The company delivered 17 units last year, three short of the target.
Airbus last year booked a charge of €2.2 billion (U.S. $2.6 billion) to cover financial penalties and slow deliveries.
The company has asked a reset of the financial penalties from the client nations Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey. Malaysia is also a customer.
The A400M is designed to offer three-point aerial refueling, with two underwing pods and a central hose and drogue system from the fuselage.