Airbus to Resume A400M Flight Tests Three Days After Fatal Crash

Airbus Group NV said it will resume flight tests with its A400M transport plane Tuesday, three days after one of the aircraft crashed in Spain, killing four people.

Airbus’s testing program will proceed as planned tomorrow with a flight from its production site in Seville, where the plane that crashed on Saturday also took off, the Toulouse, France-based company said today.

The planemaker is resuming tests of A400Ms coming out of the factory even as air forces for which the military-transport model was built halt flights. Airbus executive Fernando Alonso, who heads up the military aircraft unit after previously running the flight-test division, will be on the plane.

“He’s doing it to demonstrate his confidence and our confidence in the A400M,” Airbus said of Alonso’s direct involvement. “He’s perfectly qualified.”

Shares of Airbus fell 4.5 percent after trading for the first time since the crash, before trading 1.10 euros or 1.7 percent lower at 62.30 euros as of 5:02 p.m. in Paris.

Britain’s Royal Air Force, which has two of the planes, and Germany’s Luftwaffe, which has one, have paused operations until more information is available on the cause of the crash. France, with six A400Ms, will only permit “priority flights in operations already under way,” Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a meeting of European defense ministers.

Next Deliveries

The aircraft that will take part in “routine development tests” tomorrow is one of a number that Airbus uses to extend capabilities including defensive measures, parachute drops and the jettisoning of loads such as humanitarian aid.

The next deliveries due are to France and the U.K., and those planes have both flown before and may do so again this week, Airbus spokesman Kieran Daly said. Each A400M usually performs two or three flights before it is handed over.

The plane that went down on Saturday in what was the first ever crash involving an A400M was several minutes into its initial test flight before being delivered to Turkey in June.

Among the six Spanish Airbus employees on board, two survived with serious injuries. The accident occurred about 1 p.m. local time Saturday, 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) north of Seville’s San Pablo Airport.

The stricken turboprop most likely experienced multiple engine failure, according to a report in Germany’s Der Spiegel, which cited comments from one of the crash survivors. Spanish Defense Ministry spokesman Miguel Morer later called the report false, saying the survivors were too badly injured to speak.

‘Hot and High’

The model’s four engines, designed to enable operations from hot and high-altitude locations where the air is thinner and to enable a steep takeoff climb to avoid enemy fire, have been a focus for program delays in the past.

The powerplants are built by the Europrop International consortium, where spokesman Nick Britton referred all calls to Airbus, as did partners Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc of the U.K., Safran SA of France and Germany’s MTU Aero Engines AG.

Airbus said earlier it’s investigating the circumstances of the disaster and has dispatched a special team.

Television news coverage showed the aircraft, which carried the manufacturing serial number 23, completely destroyed and a large plume of black smoke rising over the scene. Photos supplied by the local government indicate the plane went down in a field, with wreckage strewn across a wide area and fire services on site to extinguish the blaze.

Flight Recorders

Germany’s only A400M so far out of 53 on order was delivered in December and is still undergoing trials. Britain is due to take 22 of the planes and France will get 50, including three scheduled for this year. Turkey has an order for 10, with the lost plane due to have been the third in service, and Malaysia is taking four, with one handed over.

The A400M has been undergoing intensive testing as Airbus develops the plane’s military capabilities. The company has three aircraft in the program now. Production of the planes for customers will also continue as normal, the company said.

The flight recorders from the plane were recovered on Sunday and handed to the judge investigating the crash, the Spanish Ministry of Public Works has said. The devices will most likely be sent to experienced air accident investigators in France, Britain or Germany.

A judge received a police report into the crash Monday and will now decide what steps are needed to clarify the facts, the Andalusia high court of justice said in an e-mailed statement.

The so-called black boxes are central parts of an air accident investigation as they help reconstruct the final moments in a cockpit as well as the aircraft’s performance. Large planes are typically equipped with two recorders: one that tapes conversations and noises in the cockpit, and another that stores hundreds of parameters on the flight.

Lockheed, Boeing Rival

The A400M is Europe’s most costly defense program, aimed at improving the region’s military-transport capabilities by replacing models already several decades old. Airbus has spent years haggling with governments over order numbers and follow-up financing as costs escalated and the A400M had to overcome technical and software issues.

The A400M competes with Lockheed Martin Corp.’s smaller Hercules and Boeing Co.’s C-17. Airbus has said the plane handles short, poorly prepared runways better than the C-17 and can carry bulkier cargo than Lockheed’s model.

The program is more than 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion) over budget at 25 billion euros. Customers including Germany and the U.K. have cut the number of A400Ms they’re taking, and further cancellations are possible.

At one point, cost overruns became so overwhelming that Airbus Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders threatened to scrap the plane. The program was sapping money and engineers on a scale that put the entire company at risk, he said at the time, despite Airbus relying chiefly on sales of civilian airliners.

Even now, after the plane has moved into serial production, the program remains dogged by delays. Airbus said last month that it would deliver just two A400s to Germany instead of five this year.