x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Airbus’ military arm wows potential buyers at Dubai Airshow

With a wingspan of 41.5 metres and 45 metres wide, the Airbus Military A400M Atlas airlifter is second in size only to the Boeing C-17.

The Airbus Military A400M MRTT prepares for take-off at the Dubai Airshow. Christopher Pike / The National
The Airbus Military A400M MRTT prepares for take-off at the Dubai Airshow. Christopher Pike / The National

With a wingspan of 41.5 metres and 45 metres wide, the Airbus Military A400M Atlas airlifter is second in size only to the Boeing C-17. The A400M took the stage at its first international airshow as the European defence manufacturer looked to build on the one-third market share it currently enjoys in global heavy-lift transport orders, according to Reuters. The National photographer Christopher Pike took to the air for a trip in the French behemoth.

Featuring in both the static and flying display line-ups at Dubai, the A400M was looking to capitalise on the need to replace much of the Middle East’s ageing transport fleet, as well as the growing desire among governments here to take on the kind of international coalition and humanitarian work that necessitates a large strategic airlifter.

With delivery of the second production aircraft to France having taken place on November 6, Airbus Military showcased its A400M at Dubai in an effort to further its 174-unit order book. Its deployment in France – four years behind schedule and three decades after Europe’s planners first began discussing building an independent military airlift capacity – kick-started a campaign to find new export markets.

“Today is a truly historic day for the European aerospace industry – marking the moment at which it becomes the new global leader in the military transport sector with an entirely new aircraft,” Domingo Urena Raso, the head of Airbus Military, said as the first plane was delivered to the French military.

“I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone at Airbus Military, Airbus and our suppliers whose unflagging efforts have made this enormous achievement possible, as well as our customers and OCCAR [Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation] whose inputs over the years have been crucial to the success of the programme.” This first aircraft will initially be used for training aircrew before becoming part of the French Air Force operational transport fleet, Airbus said.

The A400M was developed for seven European Nato nations at a cost of more than €20 billion (Dh99.39bn). More than 5,000 flight test hours have gone into the programme, which has been worked on by some 40,000 people.

It boasts the largest turbo-prop engines built in the West (EuroProp TP400s each developing 11 000 shaft horsepower, or shp) and can accommodate up to 37 tonnes of cargo such as helicopters, armoured vehicles and troops. But problems in developing the huge engines led to delays and a €3.5bn bailout from seven partner nations – Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey – in 2010, to help protect 10,000 European defence jobs, Reuters said.

Airbus Military’s main competitors in this region and beyond are the tactical Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules and strategic Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, with total worldwide orders deliveries and orders for the two types last year of 218 aircraft (41 per cent of the market share) and 145 aircraft (27 per cent), respectively.

The 400M Dubai debut might have been too late for it to vie for the Middle East region’s recent investment in large transport aircraft, but the company hopes to “reverse this situation very soon”.

“While the A400M’s performance speaks for itself, the problem for Airbus Military in the Middle East is that the company’s export drive is beginning at a time when most of those regional operators looking to recapitalise their ageing C-130 fleets or build their strategic airlift capabilities have already signed up, or signalled their intent, to procure either the C-130J or C-17,” said Jane’s Defence Weekly this month.

However, revealing a new long-term sales forecast at the show, the head of market development Gustavo Garcia Miranda said about 330 military transports – including 130 in the A400M’s size class – were likely to be sold in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region by 2042. “We would like to take maybe half of it,” he said of the expected business.

The European company is not saying what nations are considered the most likely prospects to buy the A400M, but Mr Miranda said it had discussed the type with “many operators” of Lockheed Martin’s legacy C-130 Hercules. The company has previously sold a combined 66 medium transports and tankers in the Mena region, he added

The company’s head of defence capability marketing, Ian Elliott, points to the A400M’s in-built potential to also be used as an air-to-air refueller as a possible attraction to new customers.

“The days of buying one aeroplane to do one job are gone,” he said.

Qatar and this country have already acquired Boeing’s C-17 strategic transport, which will end production in 2015, while Lockheed has sold new-generation C-130Js to Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Mr Miranda says new sales of the A330-200-based multirole tanker/transport are expected “within a few weeks or months”. The company is close to finalising contract discussions with India for six planes, while he said he was also “very confident” of landing an order in Asia soon.

Singapore has been considering the type for a six-unit requirement. Airbus Military points to the aircraft’s engines as a unique selling point.

“One of the key elements of the A400M’s versatility is its all-new, specifically designed three-shaft turboprop engine with eight bladed propellers,” it says on its website.

“The 11,000 shp TP400- developed by Europrop International (EPI), a consortium comprising Rolls Royce, Snecma, MTU and ITP, is the most powerful turboprop in production. It allows a wide range of speeds and flight levels and offers extremely efficient fuel consumption. Powered by four of these turboprops, the A400M can cruise at altitudes as high as 37,000 feet at speeds up to Mach 0.72. This will permit the aircraft to fly above adverse medium level weather conditions and to be integrated into the commercial aircraft airspace. At the other end of the speed / range envelope, the A400M will be capable of flying at 110 knots and 5,000ft to refuel helicopters, or even lower to drop equipment and supplies,” Airbus Military says on its website.

It said it was looking to capture half of the global US$30bn heavy-lift market value over the next decade.

“While the short to medium-term prospects in the Middle East might appear challenging, it is worth noting that the A400M’s primary strategic rival, the C-17, is due to cease production in 2015, leaving the Atlas as the only real airlifter with a strategic capability for those Middle Eastern operators who historically choose not to buy Russian equipment,” the company added.