More evidence of the apparent disrespect for quality checks at the Airbus A400M manufacturing plant in Seville (Sevilla) in Spain – at least on the aircraft produced so far – has come to light this week. The issues are that serious that the German Air Force is going to keep its ancient C-160D Transall airlifters airborne into the next decade.
According to Luftwaffe inspection reports leaked to German media like Der Spiegel magazine, very important bolts that hold the big and very essential rudder of the aircraft show defects that are a direct result of problems during the assembly that should normally have been seen during routine quality checks. So far the defects are only confirmed on the single Luftwaffe A400M, as the French, British and Malaysian air forces have so far not given information on the matter.
The rear end of the A400M already has given the Germans unpleasant surprises. During flight tests in April this year the Luftwaffe A400M crew heard repeatedly strange noises in the tail section of the plane. When investigating the matter further they found a plastic bag with screws left behind by a mechanic on the inside of part of the tail section.
Not trusting the Airbus product Berlin has now made an alternative plan to keep the Air Force providing enough airlift in the near future: as reported earlier here on Airheadsfly.com, the aging C-160 Transalls will have to soldier on until at least 2021, costing the tax payers 300 million euro extra and keeping Hohn Airbase in the north of the country open as C-160D location.
The numbers 1, 2 and 3 engine of the Airbus A400M that crashed on Saturday 9 May in Sevilla, Spain, experienced a power freeze immediately after take off, according to a Accident Information Transmission (AIT) issued by Airbus Defence and Space on 2 June. This AIT informs that the digital flight data recorder and CVR readouts have been successfully completed and that preliminary analysis has been conducted.
Investigators confirm that engines 1, 2 and 3 experienced a stuck power setting after lift-off and did not respond to the crew’s attempts to control the power setting in the normal way, whilst engine 4 responded to throttle demands. When the power levers were set to “flight idle” in an attempt to reduce power, the power reduced but then remained at “flight idle” on the three affected engines for the remainder of the flight despite attempts by the crew to regain power.
The aircraft crashed a short distance from Sevilla airport, hitting a power line first. Four people died in the crash, while two others were taken to hospital in serious condition. The aircraft was almost totally consumed by fire. An engine problem was suspected soon afterwards, as reported here on Airheadsfly.com.
Preliminary analyses have shown that all other aircraft systems performed normally. Accordingly, Airbus Defence and Space does not have any additional specific recommendations, other than the Alert Transmission Operator (AOT) already issued on 19 May. That AOT told all A400M operators to inspect the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) on all engines.
The problem by have been caused by incorrect installation of software during final assembly of the A400M concerned, which was destined for Turkey. Airbus Defence & Space has stated it is battling quality control issues in the A400M’s final assembly.
According to Airbus, the investigation continues and further updates will be given if significant new information becomes available.
The German Air doesn’t trust the A400M it got in April this year, or any the future airlifters it will get from Airbus, until something radically changes at the European aircraft manufacturer’s plant in Seville (Sevilla) in Spain.
According to document German leading opinion magazine Der Spiegel got, Luftwaffe technicians fear more software programming mistakes, as well as the lack of quality control on the technical parts as well. The German Air Force apparently found between 800 and 900 errors in the single A400M – a majority of which should have been found if Airbus had done proper quality control on the product it delivers.
The fears of the Air Force technicians now seem to get support … from Airbus. “We have a serious final assembly quality problem,” Airbus group’s chief of strategy Marwan Lahoud has now told the German daily business newspaper Handelsblatt, basing is findings on the preliminary reports of the black box transcripts of the 9 May crash. Although many say it is officially too early to tell, Airbus itself now thinks a sloppy placed Electronic Control Unit might have either contributed or have been the cause of the engine problems that led to accident.
Unfortunately, the Seville plant – where the A400M takes off from – is not the only one with this issue. Earlier the German Defence Ministry complained about the lack of quality control of the production of its Eurofighter EF2000/Typhoon, in which Airbus is the major share holder with 46 percent participation. Moreover, the problems with the NHIndustries NH90 – Airbus Helicopters holds a 62.5 percent share – are not fully over yet either.
Hopefully the investigation results in the crash of Airbus’ military flagship on 9 May in Spain will mean significant changes in how Airbus does things, and that the four lives of the crew on board were not lost in vain. A lack of quality control is known to cause problems in ship, car and train building as well, but a shocking and deathly crash like with the A400M due to possible fundamental construction process problems is something the European aircraft manufacturer cannot afford a second time. Big buyers Germany and France are already looking in options to buy Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules aircraft instead.
Germany and France both take measures to bridge an airlift capability gap if delays keep plaguing the Airbus A400M, according to reports on Thursday 21 May. Germany is ready to pump 300 million EUR in keeping its old C-160 Transalls in the air for three year longer, while France is said to be looking into the Lockheed C-130J.
The A400M is supposed to replace the C-160 in Germany, but the Germans found their first-delivered A400M not up to par so far. Airbus apparently took notice of the complaints, as changes were made in the organization in order to improve quality and speed up deliveries. For Airbus, the 9 May crash that involved a brand new A400M destined for Turkey and killed four Airbus employees, could not have come at a worse moment. A software bug in the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) is suspected to have cut off the fuel supply to three out of the A400M’s four engines, leading to the crash.
Germany now considers keeping the C-160s in the air until 2012, three years longer than originally planned, at a cost of 300 million EUR for the German taxpayer. The German Air Force still has quite a number of C-160 left at two airbases, but the aircraft are nearing the end of their usable lives.
Furthermore, France has reportedly adapted its latest defense budget in order to possibly buy four Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules transporters, whereas Paris earlier stood 100 percent behind the A400M. France already has C-130H Hercules aircraft in service, along with C-160 Transalls.
As announced, Airbus Defence & Space flew the Airbus A400M again on Tuesday 12 May, three days after the tragic crash in Sevilla that killed four Airbus employees and seriously wounded two more. A company A400M flew from Toulouse to Seville during a 1 hours 50 minutes test flight.
The head of the Airbus military division, Fernando Alonso, was on board the aircraft. According to Alonso, the crews of the crashed aircraft ‘would have wanted A400M flight test to continue. Flight done. It’s our tribute.’ Airbus said the aircraft performed normally and all scheduled tests were completed.
Airbus on Sunday already said it would continue flying the transport aircraft, to show the company’s faith in the airplane. Airbus has not responded to claims that engines failures led to Saturday’s crash, which involved a brand new A400M on its first test flight. The aircraft was intended for delivery to Turkey.
Banned Meanwhile, Spanish authorities are said to have banned test flying with aircraft currenlty in production in Sevilla. The aircraft that flew today, is a development aircraft owned by Airbus.
The type is however still grounded by the air forces of the UK, Germany, Turkey and Malaysia. Airbus has promised full transparancy in the investigation into the fatal crash, but on the other hands has not released any formal press statements since Saturday.