Air Transportation: The A400M Finally Arrives


August 15, 2013: The much delayed European answer to the C-130, the A400M, is finally being delivered to customers. France received the first one this month. This was the first delivery for the much delayed project. It took ten years of development to get the A400M into production, which was about four more years than originally predicted. First flight took place in 2011, and production of prototypes began in 2007. Each one costs about $180 million. About 174 are on order and the delays have cost dozens of orders (and more may still follow).

The 141 ton A400M has a cruising speed of 780 kilometers per hour, a range of 6,400 kilometers (with a 20 ton load), and normally carries about 30 tons (or 116 paratroopers or slightly more regular passengers).

The nearest competitor is the American C-130. The most common version is the C-130H. It has a range of 8,368 kilometers, a top speed of 601 kilometers per hour, and can carry up to 18 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more range than the C130H, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The C-130 is used by more than 50 countries. The A400M had an opportunity to give the C-130 a lot of competition, but this opportunity was diluted because the A400M failed to arrive on time and on budget. Still, the C-130 does now have the most formidable competitor it has ever faced.

Germany has cut its order for A400M transports from 60 to 57, in response to demands from the manufacturer for more money. This is not a new problem, but for those who have already ordered the A400M, it's getting old. The A400M was ultimately four years late and billions of dollars over budget. Those who have already placed orders (for 180 aircraft) were told last year that the price they thought they were going to pay ($161 million per aircraft) would go up 10-20 percent. In response, some major buyers said they were considering cancelling their orders. In turn, the manufacturer said that such actions would force the cancellation of the project. That did not happen but the price did go up, leaving the C-130J a cost advantage.

During the Cold War air transports were very low priority in Europe because if there was a war the mighty Red Army of the Soviet Union was going to deliver it and be right next door to do so. But now all the action is far away, and the military needs air freight for emergencies and other urgent missions. For that reason, the Russian An-124s get a lot of work from NATO nations. This aircraft can carry up to 130 tons of cargo, as well as outsized and extremely large cargo. The more numerous American C-17 can only carry up to 84 tons, while the new A400M can lift a maximum of 37 tons. The advantage of the two smaller airlifters (C-130 and A400M) is the ability to operate from shorter unpaved runways, which makes them less dependent on existing infrastructure. This is useful for disaster relief and peacekeeping.





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