German air force blames hydraulic leak for Airbus A400M breakdown

BONN, Germany, Feb 16 (Reuters) - An oil leak that grounded an Airbus A400M during German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen’s first business trip with the military transport plane stemmed from a hydraulic connector for a propeller blade in one of its engines, the air force said.

Last week’s leak had not affected the engine’s core and was easily fixed, an air force spokesman said, adding it was “a classic issue, not a big deal”.

The breakdown during von der Leyen’s trip to Lithuania marked a further embarrassment for a programme that is years behind schedule. Her visit was meant to showcase the new plane’s capabilities as Airbus seeks to win back confidence from its largest purchasing nation.

The military aircraft, which was delivered to the German air force in December, should be repaired later on Thursday at Germany’s A400M air base in the north of the country to be ready for service again soon, the spokesman said.

That will mean that two of Germany’s 8 A400M aircraft are ready for use, up from just one at the moment.

The spokesman said one of the connectors for eight propeller blades in the engine - one of four that power the A400 transport - had come loose, allowing hydraulic fluid to leak out.

This confirmed what German military officials had suspected - that the leak was linked to the hydraulic system used to adjust propeller blades in one of the four A400M engines.

The findings are likely to ease concerns about fresh delays in the 20 billion euro ($21.2 billion) project, which is already years behind schedule and heavily over budget.

However, the breakdown represents a public relations blow for Airbus, which is still grappling with previous problems that led to writeoffs amounting to more than 5 billion euros.

Problems with the engines, including software and an Italian-built gear component, contributed to years of delays and cost overruns in Europe’s largest multinational defence project.

The propellers are made by France’s Ratier-Figeac on behalf of Airbus, which supplies the nacelle.

The main part of the engine is supplied by a four-nation consortium led by Britain’s Rolls-Royce and France’s Safran. (Additional reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Alexander Smith)