Airbus back to drawing board for A400M?

AviationWeek reports that the A400M cargo lifter is overweight and might face re-engineering to get it closer to target weight. Increased use of composites is a possibility.

Aviation Week reported on Jan. 25 that Airbus Military may need to re-engineer the forthcoming A400M military cargo lifter to achieve the aircraft's performance targets. The plane has already been delayed several times, and now concerns have surfaced about the craft's weight.

The report says that people close to the program say the composites-intensive aircraft is heavier in its current development status. The first six units to be used in the flight-test program are 12 tons heavier than planned, according to the report. A weight-saving campaign has identified a reduction potential of 7 tons. Early production aircraft will only incorporate reductions of 5 tons at most, leaving payload below the 30-ton mark.

Airbus Military, according to the report, has informed procurement agency Occar about the weight penalty. Some Occar members, including France, have accepted the changes, but Germany, whose air force needs the aircraft for so-called out-of-area deployments that are both payload- and range-critical, has not. If the A400M falls far short of the previous design targets, missions to places such as Afghanistan would become much more complex and costly. The report says that Germany plans to use the A400M to transport the Puma armored fighting vehicle that weighs 31.5 tons in its basic version. If Airbus Military cannot increase the payload capabilities, the aircraft would only be able to carry the Puma with a sizable range restriction.

AviationWeek says Airbus has halted A400M prototype production until "adequate maturity is reached," which is interpreted by industry observers to be an indirect admission that there are probably massive changes to the aircraft in the works.

The report adds that the A400M payload may end up 3 to 4 tons below the original target, even after the design changes, which could include the use of carbon fiber composites in non-critical areas. The three-year timeframe proposed by EADS (Airbus' parent) between the first flight and first delivery at the end of 2012, at the earliest, suggests that modifications to some parts of the aircraft structure are possible.

Information: Click here for the original AviationWeek report.