Airbus A400M Faces New Setback as Germany Reveals Gearbox Issue

  • GE's Avio working to discover cause of transmission glitch
  • Manufacturer says model should still hit delivery target

Airbus Group SE’s A400M military transport is undergoing checks to the gearboxes of its turboprop engines to make sure the plane is safe to fly, according to the German Defense Ministry, marking the latest hitch in Europe’s most expensive defense program.

“This isn’t good news,” Defense Ministry spokesman Boris Nannt said in Berlin Friday. Airbus discovered issues with the transmission, prompting European air-safety regulators to order additional precautionary measures and a search for the cause by the component’s manufacturer, Italy-based Avio Aero, he said.

Fernando Alonso, Airbus’s military aircraft chief, said in a statement he’s confident the engine and transmission suppliers can fix the issue in time to meet a goal of delivering 20 A400Ms in 2016. Nannt said that wasn’t certain.

Europrop International, which includes Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and Snecma SAS, and General Electric Co.-owned Avio are working on a solution for the malfunction, caused by a cracking in the A400M’s gearbox that can spill metal pieces into the fuel tank, Alonso said.

Fatal Crash

The first A400M, handed over to France in 2013, was delivered a decade after the program was begun and four years later than planned after multiple delays due to snags including engine-control software malfunctions.

Last May, one of the planes crashed near the A400M plant in Seville, Spain, killing four people. Airbus said three of the engines experienced power freezes and stopped responding normally to the crew’s commands after liftoff.

The defense program has cost the company and governments 25 billion euros ($28 billion), about a quarter more than originally planned, though militaries from the U.K. to France and Germany are keen to get their hands on a modern transport plane to replace aging equipment.

Fourteen A400Ms are also facing a separate temperature fault in the gearbox that was reported to Airbus at the beginning of this year, the company said. Deliveries are due to rise to 21 to 23 a year when full production is reached.

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