MELBOURNE, Australia — Malaysia has detailed its experience with the Airbus A400M airlifter to Defense News, discussing recent disaster relief operations where it successfully operated on a compromised runway and touting the aircraft’s air-to-air refueling certification with the country’s fighter jets.
Speaking to media at the Avalon Airshow in Australia, where a Royal Malaysian Air Force A400M is on static display, A400M pilot Maj. Hasan, who has flown several types of aircraft over his 20-year RMAF career, called the A400M “the best aircraft that I have flown.” (The officer’s name appears as such because Malays do not have family names, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains.)
He detailed the use of the A400M in humanitarian assistance and disaster operations, with the service having deployed the plane on such missions to Bangladesh, Laos and the Philippines since it was first delivered to Malaysia in 2015. These missions also included a deployment to Palu on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi following a deadly earthquake and tsunami that devastated towns and villages in the western part of the island in late September 2018.
During that mission, the A400M demonstrated its ability to bring in outsized loads that smaller airlifters were unable to carry, and still operate from runways on which larger, heavier aircraft were unable to operate. These included carrying a 22-ton excavator on one occasion and 21 tons of relief supplies on another.
Hasan noted the runway at Palu normally handled aircraft weighing no more than 70 to 80 tons, and was weakened by the quake and further damaged by other aircraft landing with relief supplies. When it was proposed the A400M, which weighed approximately 120 tons with its load, be allowed to operate to and from the airport, Indonesian authorities expressed concern, Hasan added.
However, planning by the RMAF crew found that due to the load being distributed among the A400M’s 12-wheel main undercarriage and its tires being designed for rough airstrips, the pavement classification number of 36 was something the A400M could handle, which convinced the authorities to allow the A400M to operate from the airport. the major said..
The pavement classification number is an International Civil Aviation Organization standard used to indicate the strength of a runway, taxiway or airport apron/ramp.
Hasan also touched on the air-to-air refueling work Malaysia has conducted on the A400M. Starting in May 2018, refueling trials were conducted with the A400M using RMAF Boeing F/A-18D Hornets, Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighters and BAE Systems Hawk trainer/light-attack jets as receivers.
The trials were conducted with both receiver types throughout the flight envelope and various flight parameters, according to Hasan, successfully allowing the RMAF to certify the receiver types in accordance with standard NATO air-to-air refueling procedures, dispelling rumors in some quarters about the Russian jet’s compatibility with the A400M.
Malaysia then deployed a single A400M and F/A-18Ds to northern Australia in August to take part in the multinational air combat exercise Pitch Black, where the two aircraft types conducted a number of air-to-air refueling sorties. However, the RMAF A400Ms did not refuel any other receivers at the exercise.
Malaysia operates four A400Ms with the RMAF’s 22 Squadron based at Subang Airport, located in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur. Airbus is marketing the A400M to New Zealand, which is seeking a replacement for its Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules and Boeing 757 transport aircraft. A decision on the program is expected later this year.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.