(Updates with Airbus comment)
By Sabine Siebold
BERLIN, May 13 (Reuters) - Airbus Group SE wants to swap out airframe components in Germany’s A400M transport planes after cracks were discovered in a French A400M aircraft, the German defence ministry told lawmakers on Friday.
Benedikt Zimmer, who heads the ministry’s arms acquisitions department, notified the German parliament’s defence committee about the company’s plans late on Friday, in a document seen by Reuters. In the notification, he said the swap could take up to seven months to complete.
Airbus now needs to submit a comprehensive plan to deal with various problems that have affected the long-delayed A400M, including significant gearbox glitches on its turboprop engines, Zimmer told lawmakers.
Airbus confirmed it had identified an unknown cracking behavior in a part made of an aluminum alloy during quality control checks in 2011. It said the issue did not affect flight safety and repairs agreed with its customers would be incorporated into regular maintenance and upgrade schedules.
Germany has ordered 53 of the planes from Airbus, but deliveries have been delayed as Europe’s largest aerospace company grapples with production delays.
The repairs would be completed as part of ongoing modifications of the three A400M aircraft that have already been delivered to Germany, Zimmer told lawmakers.
Germany has demand retrofits of the three aircraft which did not meet requirements such as air dropping of paratroopers and equipment, and medical evacuations.
Germany’s military is concerned that the issues could lead to further delays, and has begun weighing possible ways to cover its military transport needs, according to a spokesman for the ministry.
Possible alternatives include joint purchases with France of other planes, such as the C-130J transport planes built by Lockheed Martin Corp or Boeing Co’s C-17 cargo planes, or service life extensions for its ageing fleet of Transall transport planes, said the spokesman.
Current plans call for Germany to phase out the Transall planes that were built in the 1960s by 2021.
A classified government defence report obtained by Reuters said the raft of problems facing the A400M made it difficult to plan for further deliveries given the “high number of manufacturer-caused risks.”
The report also questioned whether the aircraft would ever achieve the required self-defence capabilities and be able to refuel helicopters in mid-air, according to the report.
Despite the issues, the defence ministry is not considering terminating the programme, according to a spokesman. “The question of cancelling the programme is not up for discussion at the moment,” he said. (Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Berlin Newsroom; Editing by Mark Potter and David Evans)