Airbus continues A400M tests, crash victims honoured
Airbus said Monday it would carry on with test flights of its A400M military transport plane despite the crash of one of the aircraft in Spain that killed four employees.
Workers at Airbus factories around the world observed a moment of silence for the victims of Saturday’s crash, the first of an A400M military airlifter.
“We maintain our confidence in the plane,” the head of the company’s military aircraft division, Fernando Alonso, told reporters at the factory in the southern city of Seville where Airbus assembles the A400M.
He said he would take part in the next test flight of the plane on Tuesday in Toulouse in southern France where Airbus’s headquarters are located.
The A400M plane that crashed in a field and burst into flames just north of Seville’s airport was several minutes into a test flight before it was due to be delivered to Turkey in July.
Three passersby helped emergency services workers pull two of the plane’s six crew members alive from the wreckage. The pair, an engineer and a mechanic, are in hospital in serious condition.
German newsweekly Der Spiegel reported that the plane experienced multiple engine failure, citing comments by one of the crash survivors.
The seriously injured survivor has so far only been questioned about the crash “very briefly”, it said.
The A400M, a large, propeller-driven transport aircraft, was launched in 2003 to respond to the needs of seven NATO members — Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey.
– Planes grounded –
Difficulties in the development of the plane’s giant turboprop engines are among the causes of the sustained delays in building the A400M aircraft, which is designed to meet the needs of military and humanitarian missions.
In addition to production and delivery delays, the programme has also run 30 percent — or 6.2 billion euros ($7 billion) — over budget.
Earlier Monday, Malaysia became the fourth country to ground its A400Ms while it waits for the causes of the accident to become clearer, following similar decisions by Britain, Germany and Turkey.
France, which has six of the planes, has said it would only carry out “top priority flights” with the A400M until more facts emerge on what exactly went wrong.
In Germany, a spokesman for the country’s armed forces said an A400M plane received in December 2014 has already put in 57 hours of flight time, including in Senegal.
“No significant security shortcomings which would lead to grounding the aircraft were detected,” he added.
Workers at Airbus’s eight factories in Spain downed tools at noon to observe five minutes of silence in memory of the four people who died in the crash.
Those at the company’s factories in other nations were due to observe one minute of silence, said the Airbus delegate at Spain’s largest workers’ union Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), Antonio Martin.
He refused to speculate on the causes of the accident and its possible impact on the A400M programme.
“The priority is the mourning and looking after the families of the victims,” Martin said.
– ‘No hasty conclusions’ –
Spanish Defence Minister Pedro Morenes said Sunday it was “extremely important to not reach hasty conclusions” about the accident.
Airbus “represents the European military industry, we therefore must show our clear support for efforts to clarify this incident”, he added during a meeting in France with his German, French and Polish counterparts.
There are a total of 12 A400M planes in use at the moment — in addition to the six operated by France, Britain and Turkey have two each and Malaysia and Germany each have one.
Airbus maintains its goal of delivering 14 A400M planes this year. Twenty A400M planes are currently being assembled.
A total of 174 A400M planes have been ordered by the seven NATO nations as well as Malaysia.
Airbus’s shares were 2.07 percent lower on the Paris stock exchange at the close on Monday, after plunging by more than four percent earlier in the day.