A400Ms in Service for Five Air Forces


2017-04-04 By Kim Helfrich

Had South Africa remained a risk-sharing partner in the A400M project the SA Air Force (SAAF) could conceivably by now have had at least some of the new generation airlifters in service along with five other air forces.

While 28 Squadron labors on with its more than 50-year-old C-130BZs, a visit to Cape Town in February by one of 15 A400Ms already in service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) served as a poignant reminder of just what former Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s decision to exit the project in 2009 meant for local airpower.

While the SAAF is stuck for the foreseeable future with its ageing Lockheed Martin products, there is a positive for South Africa’s aerospace industry in the continuing manufacture of A400M components.

Denel Aerostructures (DAe), Aerosud and Cape Town-based Cobham South Africa manufacture A400M components including fuselage top shells, the wing-fuselage fairings, various linings, the cockpit rigid bulkhead, wingtips, tail-fin skeleton and satellite communications equipment.

South Africa, via the then Minister of Defence (Mosiuoa Lekota) and his trade and industry Cabinet colleague, Alec Erwin, signed the country up as a risk-taking partner in the A400M programme back in 2005.

A400Ms. Credit: Guy Martin

The agreement was that South Africa would acquire eight of the new generation airlifters, scheduled for delivery between 2010 and 2014. Production problems pushing out delivery dates and increasing costs saw Lekota’s successor, Lindiwe Sisulu, decide the A400M was not worth the wait or the money it would cost.

This decision saw close on two years of negotiation between what is today Airbus Defence and Space and Armscor start and end with South Africa being repaid its R3.5 billion deposit for the airlifter.

According to Airbus Defence and Space there are now 42 A400Ms in service and the company currently has orders for 174 of the aircraft.

The two largest operators currently are the RAF, with 15 out of an ordered 22, and France, flying 11 out of 50 ordered.

The German Luftwaffe has eight A400Ms currently in service and has ordered 53 of the aircraft in total. Spain has taken delivery of one of an ordered 27, Turkey three of an ordered 10 and Malaysia has received the four it ordered. Belgium (seven) and Luxembourg (one) have yet to receive ordered A400Ms.

Asked what the future holds for the A400M, an Airbus Defence and Space spokesman said the aircraft was being “energetically marketed worldwide, notably in co-operation with the recent tour of an RAF aircraft to New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia”.

“We are pleased to see a growing understanding of the aircraft’s capabilities and how it can transform current air mobility fleets. We are confident these efforts will, in due course, translate into firm orders.

“The aircraft now being delivered to customers are in a tactical configuration and as they show their capabilities in service we believe this will increase confidence in potential buyers.”

Airbus Defence and Space is also in discussions with OCCAR (Organisation for Joint Armament Co-operation) on the future delivery schedule of the aircraft which has become known as the Atlas.

This article was republished with the agreement of our partner defenceWeb


Editor’s Note: As we highlighted in an earlier article, the A400M has shaped its baseline aircraft and is exporting that baseline aircraft to global customers.

In our article on the A400M and the A330 MRTT at the recent Avalon Air Show held in Australia, we reported the following:

The RAF and the A400M in the Pacific

Joining the KC-30A at the Avalon Air Show was an the RAF with their A400M which has been engaged in a long distance tour.

The route covered by the RAF is via Hickam in Hawaii, Wellington New Zealand, Ohakea New Zealand, Auckland New Zealand, Avalon Australia, Jakarta Indonesia and Subang Malaysia.

The A400M has matured to the point that the key baseline aircraft if fully functional and operational and ready for the next phase of its evolution.

And this core baseline aircraft is ready for global export.

According to an article by George Allison published in the Uk Defence Journal and published on March 2, 2017:

Speaking at the Avalon 2017 Air Show in Australia, Wing Commander Simon Boyle said:

“Entry into service of any new aircraft type is a challenge and for the A400M it was especially so.

I see a positive trajectory for the aircraft. We have momentum building, we are just now starting to understand how good this aircraft can be.”

Wing Commander Simon Boyle added:

“Indication is that the aircraft will perform very well in the tactical role and on unprepared runways. We’re starting to understand how good the aircraft could be in the tactical environment.”


The aircraft is based at Brize-Norton and the Brize-Norton website in an article published March 8, 2017 provided this perspective on the visit to the region:

The RAF A400M, based at RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, is the newest aircraft in the RAF’s fleet. It boasts cutting edge technology, combined with sheer brute strength to make it a formidable strategic and tactical air lift platform. Able to deploy globally, it specialises in carrying over-sized loads and can transport a load of 25 tonnes over a range of 2,000 nautical miles.

Wing Commander Simon Boyle, Officer Commanding No. LXX Squadron said, “It is a real privilege to bring A400M Atlas to New Zealand for the first time, and to be able to share in the RNZAF’s 80th Anniversary Celebrations. Furthermore, with important military cargo delivered to numerous locations en-route it has also been a valuable opportunity to demonstrate the global reach that Atlas offers UK defence as we continue to advance the aircraft’s capabilities.”

Whilst in Ohakea the A400M ‘Atlas’ played host to a meeting between the Chief of the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Chief of the Royal Air Force. After which gifts were exchanged and both thanked the crew and engineers for bringing the A400M ‘Atlas’ to Ohakea to celebrate a great partnership between the two nations.

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Hillier said:

“As Chief of the Air Staff I am delighted the Royal Air Force has been able to come to New Zealand to help celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. We have a long and rich history together going back over decades, going back over operations, and everything we do today.”

“It’s a fantastic new capability for the Royal Air Force, showing our ability to deploy all the way from the UK to the other side of the world really underlines the Air Forces Global Mobility capability in support of operations wherever they might be. We get here quickly and effectively in this fantastic new aircraft.

Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies Chief of the Royal New Zealand Air Force said, “I did get to see the aircraft and have a good introduction with it last year. Wg Cdr Boyle kindly hosted me last July at LXX Squadron. I got to fly the simulator and go flying in the aircraft which was really impressive. Great range and payload. I am really envious that you’ve got them. This one has a lot of capability and a lot of credibility.”

“We have got a huge shared history together, our roots are from the RAF. It is very meaningful that on our 80th year the RAF is first and foremost the prime guests at our own party. To take the time and effort to come out here, especially for your CAS is really meaningful.”

The A400M ‘Atlas’ has clocked up 11500 miles since it left RAF Brize Norton less than 3 weeks ago, and headed to the Avalon Air Show in Australia after visiting Whenuapi.

There is a long-standing partnership between Australia and the UK, and the presence of the RAF A400M atlas from the UK is a clear demonstration of the commitment by the UK to the partnership.

Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff visited the aircraft to talk to the crew and engineers, he said, “Seeing the A400M ‘Atlas’ here in Australia. It demonstrates the quality of the RAFs Global reach and our Air Mobility capabilities…Our ability to fly this aircraft half way around the world is such an important demonstration of how important this aircraft is for the future of the RAF.”

“I would also like to offer my thanks and congratulations to Officer Commanding No. LXX Squadron, Wing commander Simon Boyle and all of the aircrew and engineers who are here in support of the A400M ‘Atlas’.

The aircraft has begun its journey back to the UK, picking up cargo on defence taskings along the way.


The photos in the slideshow are credited to Royal Air Force.