The investigation into what brought down a brand new Airbus A400M last week is in full swing and families are still mourning the loss of loved ones; but, in the world of military aviation, tough conversations are always on the table. Death is a constant companion in this business, and while everyone does their best to mitigate risk, occasionally the unthinkable happens.
The extent of what we do know about the incident at this point isn’t much, but according to industry sources, Airbus has ordered checks on all A400M engines. We also know that media flights aboard a French A400M for the upcoming Paris Air Show were canceled.
The recent crash occurred shortly after takeoff and involved an A400M ready for delivery to the Turkish Air Force. The incident has given the already troubled program another black eye. What will be the outcome? It’s too early to tell, but at the very least, conversations amongst military and government leaders in nations already signed on to purchase the Atlas must be ramping up for potential stopgaps or alternate solutions.
One potential solution to the problem is the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, which would give more cargo capability at roughly the same price (with training and logistics factored in). The C-17 has a proven track record with multiple customers, but it seems an unlikely or cost-effective solution (FY12 flyaway cost $256m) for European customers signed up for the Airbus product due to the upcoming shut down of Boeing’s Long Beach production facility.
Another possible stopgap would be the Lockheed C-130J Super Hercules. With the J-model Herc, you lose half of the cargo capability, but you are also paying less than half the price (FY14 flyaway cost $66.27m) . The Super Herc seems like a perfect solution with outstanding reliability and a production line ready to go.
A third and more likely outcome seems to be grandstanding by international customers and not much else. This lends itself to the line of thought that European (Only one non-Euro customer, Malaysia, to date) nations are trying to stay away from buying American (especially Boeing).
It’s the only logical conclusion based on cost and how well the C-130 and C-17 have performed historically, and with nowhere near the production delays and cost increases. The decision to stick with the A400M through all the issues certainly shows loyalty, but certainly defies logic. Then again, we all know that common sense gets thrown out the window when politics are involved.