Home News Margins A400M project flies into uncertain future

Margins A400M project flies into uncertain future


PARIS / MUNICH / BERLIN. The pilots wear helmets. And parachutes. Probably the small space round goes well, the chief pilot Edward "Ed has visualized" Strongman, but during test flights caution is always their highest priority. Through a pre-hatch in the bow of the machine could get Strongman and his crew, when there should be – should be the engines caught fire, for example, the machine should fall into a tailspin. Such scenarios, however, no one wants to imagine if the new military airlifter, the A400M, on Friday for the first time in Seville, rises in the Spanish sky.

Running the powerful turboprop engines, the airplane does not need thousands of feet runway. It had held 37 tons of cargo a few people weigh heavy in the air. "The A400M works almost like a helicopter," says an Airbus engineer proud. Does that mean a short-run and off into the air.

So it could give good pictures of this joint European project, photos that have those responsible sorely needed. Look, joining forces, Europe is able to build the most modern transport aircraft in the world – this message would spread the happy participants. While in Seville stemmen Spanish, French and German engineers, the first flight with a lot of trouble, the struggling parent company EADS with the governments in Paris, Berlin and Madrid for the funding of the wonders of transporter.

The project is planned for more than five billion euros more expensive than. This has reckoned up the PricewaterhouseCoopers consulting agency in mid-November. Not wearing the strapped European governments, with the additional cost, the plane lands at Christmas on the scrap heap of history.

Unrivaled Showdown

An unprecedented showdown between Europe’s biggest arms company and the European policy is about to happen. Depending on the outcome it could also mean the pathetic end of a European idea. Perhaps it is no coincidence that no German pilot participate in the maiden flight.

The situation before the first flight was certainly tense. "The A400M is impossible with the current contract on a mission," rumbles as Airbus CEO Tom Enders. He will eventually deliver the ordered 180 machines at a fixed price of 20 billion euros. So it was once agreed. "No concessions" so poisoned the FDP budgeteers Juergen Koppelin. And the new Defense Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg already can even know that he would negotiate "Straddling".

Here, the A400M is not even finished. What do you get to see the world on Friday, is nothing more than a bare base version. You will fly a bit and then disappear again, and landed in the hangar. Earlier than three years later, that was the last announcement of Airbus, the machine can be delivered.

How did it get this far? The story of an industrial disaster has also much to do with the fear of terrorism.

The year 2001, the terrorist attacks of 11 September: The military do to pressure EADS. German, British and French have to supply their troops in the global "war on terror", but for lack of transport planes. Lockheed Martin and Boeing from the United States could deliver immediately, Antonov of Ukraine has a very low-cost model in the offer. EADS However, Airbus is pressing for solution.

The former Airbus CEO Noel Forgeard and the EADS Chairman Manfred Bischoff move to Berlin and Paris, the yarns. The governments are cautious, the treasury empty, and the fear of sliding into a financial roller coaster that is great. No problem, it says at Airbus: We offer fixed prices and fixed delivery dates. Thus the group is celebrating the first big mistake.

"We call that the Commercial Approach," Bischoff early 2004, the specter of "Wirtschaftswoche" on the new contract. "The performance parameters are defined. Then we get down to work. With the distribution will determine whether we do what we have promised. So we are already almost as fast as in the case of the A400M, civil aircraft development."

What he does not say a fixed price contract has been made worldwide in the field of armaments for a new aircraft before. According to the Federal Government is smitten. She orders the same 73 machines, becoming the biggest customer. Overall, the European governments to order 180 pieces of the new wonder machine at a fixed price of 20 billion euros. As a handover date for the first A400M October, agreed 2009th

A look at the competition shows how ambitious is the project. So needed Boeing for the construction of the giant C17 transport plane from development to first delivery more than twice as long: 14 years. And Lockheed Martin is required for the C130 transport aircraft, even 15 years.

Also EADS had already experienced, may be as long and difficult complex defense procurement. At the NH 90 helicopter, the Eurocopter subsidiary tinkers already for 16 years.

Airbus also fatally underestimated the complexity of the A400M. "The company apparently believed that a tactical military transport corresponds to a green-painted civil aircraft", then sneer at France’s senators in a written report on the A400M.

A flying Unknown

But also the consumer countries to 2003 are not aware of problems – and order a flying safely unknown. The industry risk studies for new technologies, such as composites, will be performed. The customer states they do not want to pay, Airbus believes it does not seem necessary. Instead draufgesattelt.

Thus France insists that the A400M turboprop engines get, so the machine can also end up on African grass slopes, the traditional French intervention area. But no company in Europe to build such huge engines. Airbus plans to order, therefore, the Canadian aircraft engine specialists Pratt & Whitney.

The French, however, to block him. Why is created with the help of a consortium of policy among competing engine specialist Snecma, Rolls-Royce and the Daimler Subsidiary MTU. They are to big to build 11 000-hp engines. Also EADS-Shareholder Daimler has an interest in the European motor solution. He wants MTU KKR Financial to sell to the investor who needs a bride’s dowry. Since the engine order is timely. "The fact that the MTUsuch a thing had never bothered anyone once, "said one participant.

Airbus is also a completely new aircraft at a fixed price to build in record time. And get the motor from a hastily thrown together the consortium that with large propeller drives has no experience. Another component of the billion dollar disaster.

The next supply the Spaniards. The Spanish state is on EADS 5.49 percent, with only a junior partner in the group. And to date about the company Casa responsible only for the construction of smaller military transport equipment, manufactured in Seville.

With the A400M, the Spaniards now smell their chance to establish itself as a real air-power. For the Casa store Airbus Military is legally responsible for the construction of the A400M. Of course, the Spanish subsidiary is much too small for the mega-contract. Therefore, they should be able to rely on the engineers in the Airbus parent. In plain language this means, however, the daughter should control the resources of the mother. However, only fragmentary information to come from Spain to the EADS – And Airbus about the impending financial dilemma. In December 2008 ousted then EADSCEO Louis Gallois, the Spaniards and assigns the military division Airbus. Since then, the program is subject to Airbus CEO Enders.

The disaster, however, is already there. EADS has already set aside 2.4 billion euros for the problem of the A400M in the balance sheet. How much expensive the project will in the end, learn the EADSShareholders probably only at New Year. Then the negotiations on the allocation of costs should be terminated. Yet it seems a world away from an agreement.

It also shows a visit to the Bendlerblock in Berlin, the second seat of Defense. The sandstone-colored building with red pointed gable at the Landwehrkanal already worked Resistance heroes like Count von Stauffenberg. Today, the resistance of the military’s own industry.

"That can not catch on:" I conceive wrong, I reckon wrong, I’ll find someone who paid for everything, "complains one official in the Defense Ministry. The political circles are also nearly unanimous: It can not be that will iron out the first fixed-price contract for an arms purchase all of the problems the federal government. "This dam, we can not accept. And certainly not in bad times", it echoes through all the corridors of the parties and the Ministry.

No patience

The client state has slowly the faxes thick with the supplier EADS: The A400M is not the first product that comes too late and too expensive. The NH90 helicopter was running out of control, not to mention the Eurofighter. For once, the A400M, Berlin now wants to show toughness. This has also vowed that the new man in the Bendlerblock. "Contract compliance" is the slogan of Guttenberg, "is not a romantic phrase."

In fact, the German Minister of Defense but has no stick with which he could really threaten. At least not unbreakable: For Guttenberg has no alternative for the A400M, which it could draw upon and its European partners to fly the soldiers in the remote areas of application. The exit threat remains hollow.

Berlin should really get out, would the purchase of much-needed transport plane will also be completely re-tendered, the procedure would take years. And until then, Airbus is likely to have some luck with the series production of the A400M, which is dated 2013, manage it.

Furthermore: A withdrawal of the federal government would EADS brought into serious financial difficulties – and threaten 40 000 jobs. In Germany alone 10 000 people potter about in A400M. From the political trouble with partner France, it is clear, despite the delay to the program, quite apart. Export destination South Africa has already jumped. Europeans should now shoot their own military’s program has a cancellation, the A400M would be well in the long run, the last major joint military project.

"Too big to fail" – the A400M is probably just too big to let go of it against the wall. This is something the government representatives who will kick on Saturday in Seville with a champagne glass in hand on the future of the A400M.

They will smile and hope that he stays up long enough, the bird.