Budget Cuts May Curb Availability of A400M Spare Parts
French senators voiced concern that expected defense cuts could whittle away buying power for spare parts for the A400M airlifter, which has been grounded for static display only at the Farnborough International Airshow due to engine gearbox concerns.
A bipartisan senate report on the A400M, titled “Simply the Best,” said the French Air Force had done a good job in preparing infrastructure and personnel to receive the new plane from Airbus Military but noted budgetary restrictions had hit orders for spare parts.
“Supplementary budgetary restrictions should not put into question the rise in operations,” Jacques Gautier, co-author with Bertrand Auban and Daniel Reiner of the report, told journalists July 5.
The French government halved its order for engine spare parts in 2010, when the seven A400M client countries renegotiated the contract with prime contractor Airbus Military because of cost overruns, a parliamentary official said. The new figure was half the number recommended by Airbus Military.
A concern was that the A400M has four highly sophisticated engines that could require a high level of maintenance, the official said. A spending cut in spares was less politically visible than a reduction in aircraft numbers.
Engine support for the A400M accounted for some 60 percent of the total support cost of the aircraft, excluding aircraft spare parts, Gautier said.
A common stock of spares would be a big source of savings, but Germany has rejected such a measure as Berlin officials and MTU executives said it was impossible to put a value on spare parts that had been flown by another country, the report said. MTU is one of the four European engine companies in the European Propulsion International (EPI) consortium working on the TP400 turboprop, which powers the A400M.
“To have a European pool of spare parts is a considerable source of savings for the nations, and it is of the greatest importance that a common agreement should be found. This objective must not be dropped,” Gautier said.
Service cost was generally about double the acquisition cost, which is why it is important to pursue efforts in this direction, the senators said.
At the Farnborough Airshow, Airbus Military said “engine issues” meant the A400M would not take part in the flying display, confirming a Reuters story.
The concerns arose from the Avio gearbox, which had forced a grounding of the A400M at the Paris Airshow last year, an industry executive said.
An Avio spokesman said on July 8 that the company was unable to state whether an Avio component “was involved in the [in-flight shutdown] as a root cause.”
“ These engines are the most powerful turboprops ever developed in the Western world. They are bringing new levels of technical sophistication to turboprops, and they are being tested to the maximum of their capabilities.They represent one of the toughest development challenges in the program for all EPI’s partners and suppliers and it´s no surprise that there are some issues in this phase.These things happen in development programs and, because of our worldwide recognized leadership in aerospace propulsion, we are used to dealing with them.”
A first delivery to the French Air Force would now go ahead by March 31, the contracted date, instead of before the end of 2012, as Airbus Military executives had previously predicted. There were no particular problems behind the rescheduled delivery, Airbus Military France chief executive Cédric Gautier said.