The Spanish Air Force took delivery of its first Airbus A400M on Thursday 17 November. It is the first of 27 aircraft ordered. Spain is the sixth nation to put the A400M into service, following France, the UK, Germany, Turkey and Malaysia.
Representatives of the Spanish Air Force and Ministry of Defense formally accepted the aircraft, known as MSN44, from Airbus in a brief ceremony at the A400M final assembly line (FAL) in Seville, Spain.
The A400M will replace the Spanish Air Force’s C-130 Hercules. Under an agreement signed in September, 14 aircraft will be delivered at a steady pace between now and 2022, and the remaining 13 are scheduled for delivery from 2025 onwards. It is however not clear if Spain will actually take up this last batch, as funds may not allow it. In that case, Spain could very well re-sell the aircraft.
The Spanish A400M fleet will be based at Zaragoza in north east Spain and will operate alongside medium C295 and CN235, and light C212 aircraft – MSN44 will fly to Zaragoza in the coming days.
The Airbus A400M airlifter expanded its capabilities as an air-to-air refuelling platform by successfully demonstrating air-to-air refuelling contacts with another A400M, Airbus reported on Monday 14 November. In two flights conducted from Seville, Spain the development aircraft performed more than 50 contacts in level flight and turns using the centreline hose and drum unit (HDU).
Airbus ephasizes that its A400M is the only tactical tanker with this third refuelling point, in addition to its underwing pods, enabling refuelling of large receivers such as another A400M or C-130. It has a basic fuel capacity of 63,500 litres, which can be increased with two extra cargo hold tanks carrying 7,200 litres each, and can refuel from the HDU at a rate of 2,000 litres (600 US gallons) per minute. The technique would allow the A400M to carry a 20 tonne payload more than 6,000nm / 11,000km non-stop from Paris, France to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The standard A400M aircraft has full provisions for air-to-air refuelling (AAR) operations already installed and only requires the rapid installation of the optional air-to-air refuelling kit to become a tanker.
Germany is set to buy and operate four to six Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft in a joint effort with France, German reports say on Tuesday 4 October. Berlin with such a move clearly shows it doesn’t have much faith in the Airbus A400M, which is now being delivered to the German Luftwaffe at a painfully slow rate while also showing shortcomings for which Berlin seeks compensation.
The Hercules aircraft are to be delivered in 2021 and based in France, according to sources. They would be fitted especially for special operations and be able to operate from unpaved runways.
If anything, the purchase is a clear signal to Airbus that the Germans are fed up with the A400M. Germany has 53 of the type on order but only saw delivery of a handful of aircraft as a result of production delays and operational limitations. Berlin now apparently think the A400M will never be the ‘tactical’ airlifter it thought it ordered.
France already ordered four C-130J Super Hercules aircraft earlier, while Germany was known before to also look at other options apart from the A400M. A joint purchase of new C-130s was never on the cards, however. The German-Franco aircraft will likely be stationed at Orleans airbase in France, home to the existing French Hercules fleet.
The first Airbus A400M airlifter for the Spanish Air Force made its maiden flight on Monday, marking a key milestone towards its delivery. The aircraft, known as MSN44, took off from Seville, Spain where the A400M Final Assembly Line is located at 15:25 local time on 5 September and landed back on site 3 hours and 45 minutes later.
Test-Pilot Nacho Lombo, who captained the flight, said after landing: “As always, the aircraft was a pleasure to fly. I am confident that its unique combination of strategic and tactical capabilities will have a transformational effect on the Spanish Air Force’s air mobility operations as it has done in other countries already.”
The aircraft is scheduled to be delivered in the coming weeks.
Featured image: The first Spanish A400M in the air. (Image © Airbus Defense)
Germany is seeking compensation for various issues and delays with its troubled Airbus A400M airlifters. Berlin also wants the aircraft manufacturer to come up with a plan to solve the issues, and meanwhile does not rule out the purchase of another transport aircraft to ensure operational capability.
The A400M has been causing head aches in Berlin since delivery of the first aircraft in late 2014. Since, only a handful of aircraft found their way to Germany. Negative headlines did find their way to German media however, quoting various technical and operational difficulties. Most recently, a fault in the engines sparked another run of headlines criticizing the A400M
The German struggle is remarkable, as other operators of the type seem to be just fine with the A400M. France, the UK, Turkey and Malaysia operate the type as well, and the first aircraft for Spain now nears delivery.
Airbus nevertheless acknownledges issues with the A400M, promising to tackle those issues.