Challenges of Aerospace Innovation: The Case of the A400M


by Robbin Laird

© 2015 FrontLine Defence (Vol 12, No 3)

The tragic May 9th crash of an A400M (MSN 23), near the Airbus final assembly plant near Seville, Spain, reminds us of how risky the introduction of new systems can be.

Due to be delivered to the Turkish Air Force in June, the plane crashed during a test flight, killing four flight test crew members.

When I grew up in the 1950s, ongoing design and evolution of new aircraft unfortunately saw many injuries and fatalities during the development and test processes that remain an integral part of any aerospace innovation effort.

Injuries and fatalities have rocked many unique aviation technologies over the years. Fortunately, new techniques and technologies have dramatically reduced the numbers of accidents and casualties in the test process – but have not completely eliminated the risk inherent to introducing new systems.

Innovation in the aviation sector sometimes comes with deadly cost.

Can we suppress mankind’s primal drive to invent and improve?

No, but we can investigate, make changes, and ultimately move forward, always with safety as a priority.

We crave the new capabilities that innovation delivers, and always have.

In the case of the A400M, the innovation it is delivering is clearly significant to the Air Forces that are already operating the plane.

Screenshot 2015-05-24 06.26.21

In April 2015, I had a chance to visit the first operational base of the A400M, which is operated by the French Air Force near the city of Orleans, France, at the Bricy Air Base.

I spoke at length with Lieutenant-Colonel Benoît Paillard, Commander of Transport Squadron 1/61, Touraine, and I also toured the training facility…..

There are six A400Ms at the base, with a seventh coming this Fall. The base currently operates both C-130Hs and A400Ms, but eventually will only operate A400Ms and will probably be the largest base of A400Ms in the world by the time the French Air Force (FAF) receives its full compliment of aircraft.

Although the plane has been in operation only for a short period of time, and is undergoing further development, it has already had an important impact.

It directly connects France to operations in Africa and the Middle East without the need for refueling during the mission. It is flying two missions a month to Africa and two to the Middle East.

“One of the key advantages of the A400M will be that we can fly helicopters directly from France to the troops, which we can not do right now.

We cannot ship the helos directly back to France, currently, with our own assets. With the A400M we will be able to do so,” notes LCol Paillard.

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