PARIS – The Airbus A400M transport aircraft has been certified over the past few weeks for two capabilities: simultaneously dispatching 116 paratroopers (58 from each of the side doors) and automatic, low-level flight.

But this does not mean the air forces of the six partner nations of the A400M program (Belgium, France Germany, Spain, Turkey and the UK) can immediately use these capabilities in operational conditions. “There is a difference between certification and operational capability,” a press spokesman for the DGA French procurement agency told Defense News. He explained that the French Air Force has declared operational capability for 30 paratroopers to jump from one side door. “That means if the president orders the armed forces to undertake a mission where they would need to have 30 paratroopers jump from the side door, we could do so immediately,” he said.

Paratroopers can already deploy operationally two at a time in free fall from the aircraft’s rear ramp. With the deployment from the side doors, the parachute opens automatically. The French air force expects to be able to use both side doors operationally next year.

The certification flight test, completed in May 2020 in coordination with the DGA and supported by the French and Belgian Armed Forces, combined a paratrooping campaign of more than 1,000 jumps along with new methodologies based on recording and 3D modeling of paratrooper jump trajectories.

The A400M has also been certified for a first phase of Automatic Low Level Flight capability after a campaign flown down to 500 ft above the Pyrenees and central France. This phase concerns operations with Visual Flight Rules, in other words with visibility. The second phase will involve flying with no visibility.

Airbus notes in a press statement that this Automatic Low Level Flight (ALLF) capability is unique for a transport aircraft even if it is inherent for fighter aircraft. The company says it makes “the aircraft less detectable in hostile areas and less susceptible to threats when cruising towards key military operations like aerial delivery, air-to-air refueling, logistic or other specific special operations.”

The DGA says the new capability takes into account “the possibility of failures such as problems with the engines or the loss of lateral and/or vertical positioning.” The ALLF can be used either in fully automatic mode or following indications given by the flight director. “It will eventually allow the Air Force to fly very low mission altitudes in no-visibility conditions,” the DGA says.

The first new A400M with these two capabilities will be delivered to the French Air Force in early 2021 but an aircraft already in service will be retrofitted with them before the end of this year.

Christina Mackenzie was the France correspondent for Defense News.

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