The Airbus group hopes that it and the South African government will be able to discuss the questions of the country’s future military airlift and air-to-air refuelling requirements, and the A400M programme, during the second half of this year.
“We understand that South Africa has a pressing issue with the World Cup, but we hope they will give attention to the airlifter issue after it is over,” Airbus group CEO Tom Enders told Engineering News during his company’s Innovation Days aerospace media conference in Broughton, Wales.
“Without clarity on South Africa’s road map in this regard, it will be very difficult to defend South Africa’s workshare in the programme.”
The World Cup ends on July 11.
South Africa was a full partner in the A400M programme, with eight aircraft on order. As a result, South African companies Aerosud and Denel (now Denel Saab Aero-structures – DSA) were made responsible for the design, development and engineering, as well as for the manufacturing, of certain elements of the A400M.
In the case of DSA, which is 80%-owned by South African State defence industrial group Denel, these were primary structures (essential for the structural and aerodynamic integrity of the aeroplane) of which the most important and biggest are the fuselage top shells and the wing/fuselage fairings. Aerosud’s work is largely on interior fittings but includes the wing tips.
But, late last year, South Africa cancelled its A400M order and withdrew from the programme. And so Airbus is now under pressure from the remaining partner governments to relocate the work assigned to South Africa to other countries. Already, DSA has lost smaller work packages, for the sword (main spar) and ribs for the vertical tail fin. And the South African Air Force still needs a new strategic transport and tanker aircraft.
Meanwhile, the flight test programme for the A400M is progressing. “We now have two aircraft flying,” Airbus senior vice-president: flight and integration tests Fernando Alonso pointed out. There will be five aircraft in the A400M flight test programme – MSN1, -2, -3, -4 and -6. The MSN1 has accumulated over 120 flying hours, the MSN2 16 hours. The MSN1 reached its maxiumum operational speed on its first flight. It also flew at minimum speed to reach stall warning. “The handling of the aircraft is excellent. Up till now, we’ve had no surprises. There is some fine tuning to do. Overall, we’re very happy with what we’re seeing up till now. The flight test campaign is going well.”