Paris: Airbus Military SL of Madrid, a subsidiary of Airbus Industrie, responsible for management of the A400M programme, a military transporter designed to meet the requirements of the air forces of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom, says structural problems will force it to remanufacture a part linking its massive engines to their gearboxes.
The A400M's four turboprop engines are among the largest ever built.
"It's a setback and something we have to fix," Juan Carlos Martinez Saiz, Airbus Military executive vice president for military programmes, told reporters. So far, Europe's A400M military transport plane project has been on course for first flight in early 2008.
According to Saiz, engine testing would not be affected, nor flight tests or deliveries, but he acknowledged the problem had been a "surprise". Structural problems were found in the linkage and a redesigned part was being manufactured.
The A400M is an 18-billion-euro project to provide Europe with a large transport plane that can fly troops and equipment into conflict zones or assist in humanitarian missions.
Executives at Airbus parent firm EADS had said in March that the formal start of the A400M final assembly process would be delayed by up to three months but first deliveries to the French air force in October 2009 would remain on track.
The project spent two decades in planning, and also in sorting out disputes over funding, but executives are hopeful that the plane will carve out a niche in the global market. They foresee a market for at least 400 of such aircraft.
The firm already has orders for 192 aircraft, including 180 from the seven launch nations of Germany, France, Spain, the UK, Turkey, Belgium and Luxembourg -- as well as eight from South Africa and four from Malaysia.
The A400M's main rivals are the Lockheed-Martin C130J Hercules and the larger C-17 Globemaster from Boeing Co.
The military carrier's development holds a lot of significance for the European aerospace industry, partly because its technology is expected to feed into next generation Airbus airliners, such as the A350. The A400M is made of 30 to 40 percent advanced composite materials, for example, a level far higher than current Airbus airliners.
This is an area that has allowed Boeing's 787 Dreamliner to steal a march over offerings from its European counterpart.
The 180 aircraft ordered by the seven nations are split along the following lines: Belgium seven, France 50, Germany 60, Luxembourg one, Spain 27, Turkey ten and the UK 25 aircraft. The first aircraft is scheduled to fly in early 2008 with deliveries between 2009 and 2025. First deliveries will be made to the French and Turkish air forces.
South Africa has signed a contract with Airbus Military to become a full participant in the A400M programme, and is expected to order between eight and 14 aircraft, for delivery between 2010 and 2014.
Chile has signed a letter of intent with Airbus Military for up to three A400M, while Malaysia has signed a contract for the purchase of four A400M.
Total firm orders for the A400M stand at 192 aircraft.
The A400M has a much larger payload than the C-160 Transall and C-130 and the design makes extensive use of composite materials. The capability for short soft field landing and take off is part of the requirement and the aircraft has six-wheel high flotation main landing gear. The aircraft also has long range and high cruise speed for rapid and flexible deployment.
The cockpit is fully night-vision compatible and will be fitted with a fly-by-wire flight control system developed for the Airbus range of civil airliners. The A400M's FMS400 flight management system, based on Integrated Modular Avionics modules, is an adaptation of systems being fitted on the Airbus A380 airliner.
The avionics includes cockpit control and display systems with nine 6in x 6in displays and a digital head-up display, which features Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) technology and Enhanced Vision Systems (EVS), for enhanced situational awareness.
A400M for Germany will be fitted with a Terrain Masking Low Level Flight (TMLLF) system, from EADS Military Aircraft, for low-level flight control.
There is a Military Mission Management System (MMMS), which controls cargo handling and delivery, calculating the load plan and the computed air release point before an airdrop, as well as fuel management and fuel operational ranges.
The MMMS also manages the Tactical Ground Collision Avoidance System (T-CGAS) and military / civil communications.
The EADS Defence Electronics defensive aids suite will include an ALR-400 radar warner, MIRAS (Multi-colour InfraRed Alerting Sensor) missile launch and approach warner developed by EADS and Thales, and chaff and flare decoy dispensers.
A laser DIRCM (Directed Infrared Countermeasure) system may be added later.
The aircraft can also be fitted with armour plating for crew protection, bulletproof windscreens, engine exhaust treatment for infrared emission reduction, and inert gas explosion retardation and fire retardation in the fuel systems. The wings have hardpoints for the installation of electronic warfare pods and refuelling pods.
The payload requirements include a range of military helicopters and vehicles, heavy engineering equipment, pallets and cargo containers.
The cargo bay can transport up to nine standard military pallets (2.23m x 2.74m), including two on the ramp, along with 58 troops seated along the sides or up to 120 fully equipped troops seated in four rows. For Medevac, it can carry up to 66 stretchers and ten medical personnel.
The A400M can airdrop paratroopers and equipment either by parachute or gravity extraction. It can air-drop: single load up to 16t; or multiple loads up to 25t total; or 120 paratroops plus a wedge load of 6t; or up to 20 1t containers / pallets.
The A400M will be convertible to a tactical tanker, with the ability to refuel a range of aircraft and helicopters within two hours.
Up to two Cargo Bay fuel Tanks (CBT), which connect directly to the A400M's fuel management system, can be fitted. Total fuel capacity is 46.7t or 58t with the CBTs.
Airbus Military has selected the three-shaft TP400-D6 turboprop engine, to be manufactured by EuroProp International (EPI), a consortium formed by Rolls-Royce (UK, Germany), ITP (Spain), MTU (Germany) and Snecma (France).
Rolls-Royce will be responsible for overall integration.
The four engines will each have a maximum output over 11,000shp. EPI states that they will be the largest turboprops ever made in the West. The engines will be fitted with FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control).