South African State-owned defence industrial group Denel announced at the end of last month that it had reached a mutual understanding with Europe-based major aerospace and defence group Airbus to cease Denel’s manufacture of components for the Airbus A400M military airlifter aircraft, “subject to fulfilling applicable legal prescripts”. Airbus has not yet disclosed where the manufacture of these components will be moved to.
The decision was taken by the two groups in the context of Denel’s continuing strategic review of its activities, Denel Group CE Danie du Toit explained. Both parties had agreed that to continue manufacturing the components at Denel was, in its current form, no longer sustainable.
“Alternative options are now being considered between the two parties,” stated the Denel press release. Moreover, Airbus and Denel were collaborating in other areas and would not only continue to do so but also planned to strengthen and widen their strategic industrial partnership.
The components are currently being assembled at Denel Aeronautics, in Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg. This facility is located at OR Tambo International Airport, on the far side from the terminal buildings. These components comprise the wing/fuselage fairings (WFFs); fuselage centre section top shells; vertical tail-plane ribs, spars and swords; cargo deck floor iso locks; and the central guide vertical restraint system.
Both the WFFs and the fuselage top shells are large primary structures. Each WFF is manufactured mainly from composite materials but includes aluminium parts and is 15 m long, 7 m wide, and nearly 3 m high. The A400M WFF is the largest single aerostructural part ever made in South Africa.
The top shells can be thought of as being equivalent to roof panels. Denel has been producing two top shells for each aircraft – one in front of and one behind the wing box, which joins the wing to the fuselage.
The ribs, spars and swords form the framework of the vertical tail plane. The cargo deck floor ISO locks are a combination of aluminium rails and cross tracks that serve to guide the movement of ISO containers within the A400M’s cargo hold. The containers are then secured in their positions by a comprehensive system of locking mechanisms.
The A400M programme was launched in 2003 by seven European countries – Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK. Malaysia joined in 2005. South Africa also joined the programme in 2005 with an order for eight aircraft (which was cancelled in 2009). As a result of that order, Airbus transferred to Denel the skills and technology necessary for the South African company to design, develop and manufacture the WFFs and fuselage top shells. The contracts for the other components were awarded to Denel later.
The A400M can carry a 37 t payload for more than 2 000 nautical miles (3 700 km). Currently, orders for the aircraft stand at 174, with 75 having been delivered to six of the eight customers. (Belgium and Luxembourg have not yet received any aircraft.) All 75 of the delivered aircraft are in operational service. This number reportedly breaks down as follows – France 14, Germany 26, Malaysia 4, Spain 4, Turkey 7 and the UK 20. A400M production in 2018 came to 18 aircraft, and 11 are planned to be built this year. From next year onwards, the production rate for the aircraft will be eight a year.
Denel is now in the process of executing its new long-term strategy that will reposition the group and restore its profitability. This involves the company withdrawing from noncore activities, exiting from core business areas that are not viable and focusing on core business areas that are viable, thereby providing long-term sustainability. Also, the viable core business areas will be repositioned to improve access to markets and capital. Further, there will be a focus on developing exports by means of joint ventures and strategic equity partnerships.