Spain Tells Airbus to Ground All New A400Ms After Fatal Crash

Airbus A400M Aircraft Wreckage
Experts inspect the wreckage of the crashed Airbus A400M near Seville airport on May 11. Photographer: Cristina Quicler/AFP via Getty Images

The Spanish government told Airbus Group NV to cease flying new A400M transport planes following Saturday’s fatal crash, effectively halting deliveries from Europe’s costliest defense program.

Aircraft fresh off the production line are barred from entering pre-handover testing until it’s clear what caused the crash involving an A400M making its first flight after leaving the plant, Spanish Defense Minister Pedro Morenes said Tuesday.

Airbus said in a statement that the move is “a precautionary measure,” adding: “To what extent this will have an impact on the delivery schedule is too early to say.”

Airbus’s own fleet of A400Ms used for trials to expand the model’s operational envelope may escape the ban, and a spokesman said a flight today with military aircraft unit head Fernando Alonso on board is slated to go ahead as planned.

Last weekend’s crash in Seville, the first involving an A400M, killed four of the six people on the plane, which had been due to be delivered to Turkey in June.

“Until the result of the investigation is known, it’s not appropriate that planes that are about to do tests can fly,” Morenes said in an interview with Onda Cero radio.

Airbus, the Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc-led group that makes the A400M’s turboprop engines and accident investigators have all so far given no indication of what caused the crash.

Britain’s Royal Air Force, which has two A400Ms, and Germany’s Luftwaffe, which has one, have paused operations until more information is available. France, with six, will only permit priority flights in operations already under way.

Military-Led

It’s not clear whether the next two planes scheduled for delivery -- to France and the U.K. -- will escape today’s ban. Both have already flown, though two or three flights are typically required before acceptance by the end user.

Today’s decision from Spain’s defense ministry suggests the crash probe may be led by military authorities rather than dealt with as a civil matter. The flight recorders may still be examined by air-accident experts in France, Britain or Germany.

The A400M was commissioned to replace models several decades old. Airbus has spent years haggling with governments over order numbers and follow-up financing as costs escalated to more than 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion) over budget at 25 billion euros amid technical and software issues.

The plane competes with Lockheed Martin Corp.’s smaller Hercules and Boeing Co.’s C-17. Airbus has said it handles short, poorly prepared runways better than the C-17 and can carry bulkier cargo than Lockheed’s model.

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