The Airbus Defence and Space (DS) A400M Atlas transport aircraft is set to make a star turn at this year's Farnborough International Airshow, ahead of the commencement of deliveries to the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) later this year.
The European airlifter will feature on both the static and flying display line-ups throughout the week of 14-20 July, prior to the first A400M being handed over to RAF Brize Norton in September.
The UK is actually set to receive four of its 22 aircraft this year as the programme ramps-up deliveries to the seven partner nations of Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey, and the UK, plus one export customer, Malaysia.
Deliveries to date have seen France take delivery of aircraft MSN007 and MSN008, and Turkey MSN009. The near-term delivery run (those aircraft currently being put together at the final assembly line [FAL] in Seville, Spain) will see MSN010, MSN011, and MSN012 go to France; MSN013 to Turkey; MSN014 to France; MSN015, MSN016, and MSN017 to the UK; MSN018 to Germany; MSN019 to France; MSN020, MSN021 to the UK; MSN022 to Malaysia; MSN023 to Turkey; MSN024 and MSN025 to the UK. In addition to these aircraft already going through the FAL, Airbus DS currently has parts for MSN026 to MSN053 in various stages of the long-lead supply chain.
While the deliveries so far to France and Turkey have seen both nations receive initial operating capability-standard aircraft (basic logistics), MSN010 through to MSN014 will see the A400M equipped for full logistic capabilities. In September, MSN015, the first aircraft for the UK, will see the roll-out of initial tactical capabilities (paratrooper operations from ramp and side doors, and some aerial delivery methods). From 2015, Airbus DS expects to begin rolling out additional tactical capabilities (featuring full airdrop, self-defence, and a tanker role), leading through to the release of the Full Common Standard Aircraft in 2018. Airbus DS will then set about retrofitting all earlier aircraft already delivered to this final standard.
With deliveries of the current 174 aircraft order book for the partner nations and Malaysia now well under way, Airbus DS recently disclosed that the first available slots on the production line for additional customers will come in 2017. Even so, the company is targeting the end of 2014 as the deadline for signing up its first export customers since Malaysia joined the programme in 2005.
To this end, 2014 has seen demonstrations being flown in Mexico, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, company and French Air Force aircraft flew at the ILA Berlin Airshow in May.
Airbus DS is looking to capture half of the global USD30 billion heavy-lift market value over the next decade, and expects to sell 400 aircraft over the next 30 years. While the short- to medium-term prospects for the aircraft might appear challenging when considering declining defence budgets and the fact that many air arms have only recently recapitalised their fleets with new Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules' or Boeing C-17 Globemaster IIIs, there is no reason why, given the A400Ms superior performance, the target cannot be achieved over the longer term.