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Airbus Yanks A400M off U.K. Flying Display on Gearbox Hitch

Airbus SAS said its A400M won’t participate in daily flight demonstrations at the Farnborough Air Show after it discovered a fault in the gearbox, the second consecutive year a glitch has grounded 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, which is building the plane. “This adds an element of uncertainty to behavior of engines, which is not compatible with the type of low-altitude, complex maneuvers typical of flight displays.”

It’s the second year running when gearbox issues have hobbled the plane. Last year at the Paris Air Show, which alternates with Farnborough in the U.K. as the aviation industry’s biggest event, the plane flew just once on the first day, with the French acrobatic flying team. The A400M will instead be on static display at the show, which begins July 9.

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 the final assembly line, with the first delivery on schedule for before the end of March 2013.

The aircraft’s turbo-propeller engine, the world’s biggest of its kind, is built by Europrop, a company that include MTU Aero Engines, Rolls-Royce PLC and Safran SA’s Snecma division. The gearbox itself is made by Avio, in 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.”

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