Airbus Has Less Time to Spare as A400M Delivery Slips to 2013

Airbus SAS said the first delivery of an A400M will probably slip into next year because of renewed engine problems, eroding its margin to meet a March deadline to deliver the military airlifter.

“We found metallic chips in one of the gearboxes and the origin is not yet identified,” said Maggie Bergsma, a spokeswoman for Airbus Military.

The discovery of shavings has interrupted testing, pushing back a multi-week production trial required for the European Aviation Safety Agency to certify the aircraft. Airbus, a unit of European Aeronautics, Defence & Space Co., aimed to deliver its first A400M to France this year.

Airbus already revised its delivery schedule to its lead customer to the end of March after initial setbacks. The latest gearbox problem arose on one of the four engines on the A400M undergoing a 300-hour function and reliability endurance flight test. Airbus has completed 160 hours of the program so far. The troubled engine has been replaced, though the test can only resume once the cause of the problem is determined.

A more public repercussion will be the absence of the A400M in daily flight demonstrations at the Farnborough Air Show. It’s the second year running when gearbox issues have hobbled the plane. At the Paris Air Show in 2011, the plane flew just once on the first day, with the French acrobatic flying team. The A400M will be parked in a static display area at Farnborough, which begins July 9.

“This adds an element of uncertainty to the behavior of engines, which is not compatible with the type of low-altitude, complex maneuvers typical of flight displays,” Bergsma said.

Over Budget

The A400M is Europe’s largest defense program and about 5 billion euros ($6.2 billion) over budget at 25 billion euros. Airbus has five A400Ms flying the test program and three planes in final assembly, with the first delivery scheduled for before the end of March 2013. The aircraft’s turbo-propeller engine, the TP400D-6, is built by Europrop International, a company that includes MTU Aero Engines, Rolls-Royce PLC and Safran SA’s Snecma division. The gearbox is made by Avio of Italy.

“Our engineering teams are working around-the-clock to identify the cause and implement a solution,” Europrop said in a statement today. “In the meantime we are continuing to support the flight test program which is ongoing.”

Airbus and Europrop International also are still investigating why an A400M suffered an engine shut-down earlier this year. The repeated problems have raised concern at Airbus about engine reliability. A third engine problem the A400M suffered this year, when an aircraft experienced excessive vibration, has been resolved.

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