The Airbus A400M should be the leader in the large military transport market within 10 years, reckons Antonio Rodriguez Barberan, senior vice president of commercial business at Airbus Military, “because we will be the only actors left. The [Lockheed Martin] C-130s and [Boeing] C-17s will need replacing by then and their production line is closing down,” he told DTI at the new Airbus Military training center here last month.
But for now his marketing executives are holding their fire. “We are being prudent marketing the A400M,” says Barberan. “The priority this year is certification flights,” which means there are not many slots when the aircraft will be available for demonstration flights. It will nevertheless fly at air shows such as at Paris this month, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and Izmir in Turkey for the centennial of the Turkish air force, which will take delivery of its first A400M in mid-2013.
Barberan and his team know which countries to target when they ramp up marketing next year: those with major air forces and a large number of old transport aircraft—such as C-130s, C-17s and Ilyushin Il-76s. “In the next 10 years Asia will be a major market,” he says, except for China, which he believes will likely develop a large military transport aircraft of its own. “But by that time the A400M should be established.” Other candidates include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In the Americas, Mexico meets the criteria, but Brazil does not. Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer launched the KC-390 medium-weight transport aircraft program in 2009, and “so is not likely to be interested,” Barberan says. “In the medium-to-long term the U.S. market is huge and there is a capability gap which the A400M would fill in due time.” This is also true for Australia, which recently procured C-130s, “but in 20 years, when these are becoming old, we will be there.”
No presentations have yet been made to India, “but due to the size of the market the A400M would be perfect,” he says.
Barberan expects that interest in the A400M “will rocket with the first delivery to the French air force in early 2013.” Should a country express interest before then, “we might be able to consider delivery dates for new customers in or around 2015.”
Barberan believes the A400M “will be an extremely profitable program.” He says there are about 2,450 heavy transport aircraft globally that are on average 26 years old. Of these, most—1,015—are in North America, followed by Russia with 475. Russia is likely closed to the A400M, but Barberan is optimistic that U.S. and Canadian air forces will eventually buy the aircraft.
In addition, missions are changing. “We have moved from a Cold War, bipolar world in which transport aircraft were mainly for military missions to one where there are huge humanitarian needs, asymmetric threats and a requirement for rapid response. More and more these planes are supporting society,” Barberan explains. “This means the A400M will be sold for the next 40 years.” There is, as well, a “huge market for the A400M among civilian operators,” whose inquiries about procuring the aircraft “we’ve had to decline for the time being.”
Armed forces have performed more military operations in recent years, generally far from home, so there is a need for global reach and an ability to deploy in hostile areas, land on unprepared terrain and provide front-line support. The A400M with its ability to carry 30 metric tons (33 tons) for 4,535 km (2,820 mi.), or 20 metric tons for 6,390 km, drop paratroopers and loads from high and low altitudes, land and take off from short and soft unprepared airfields, and low detectability meets relevant requirements.
So, is the aircraft over its development problems? Cedric Gautier, head of the A400M program, says, “We are on track and in many areas have over-achieved our expectations.” Four test aircraft are flying and more than 1,600 test flights totaling 500 hr. had been flown by mid-May. The fifth test aircraft will make its first flight in the first quarter next year, while the sixth aircraft, which is also the first production aircraft (and the first delivered to the French air force), will make its initial flight in the third quarter of 2012.
Flight testing is making “good progress,” says chief test pilot Ed Strongman, and is on track to be completed by the end of the year. Testing of military systems and military operations has also begun.
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