With the A400M rapidly maturing, let’s take a look at what different air forces have been using the air-lifter for.

The Malaysian fleet of four is now in service; the United Kingdom has received 18 of the 22 it ordered and will soon be forming its second operational squadron. Germany has 16 A400Ms; France operates 13; Turkey has five that have been flying intensively; and in the last year, Spain began operations with two aircraft now in service and more to come. All told, the A400M fleet has flown more than 29,000 hours say Airbus.

A400M humanitarian relief operations

After Hurricane Irma’s devastation in September 2017, several European countries dispatched A400Ms with disaster relief supplies to the Caribbean. The UK, France and Germany each deployed two A400M airlifters; Germany’s aircraft were sent on behalf of the Netherlands to evacuate citizens to Europe.

While several types of military airlifters were used, the A400Ms showed their worth – being able to cross the Atlantic more quickly than the C-130 Hercules aircraft that also were sent to the region, while carrying a useful load say the MoD.

The Airbus-built transports were able to make the trip with only one refuelling stop instead of the three required by C-130s, and arrived carrying more cargo. The Royal Air Force delivered equipment such as tractors, and the French Air Force carried an Airbus-produced Puma helicopter on one deployment flight – a highly valuable resource to have on-site at the beginning of a relief operation. 

Once in the Caribbean, the A400Ms proved extraordinarily effective with their ability to operate from shorter airfields, performing inter-island flights where they could carry nearly three times as much cargo as the C-130.

The A400M in a military role

Having more than proved itself in HADR operations, the A400M is first and foremost a military transport. The RAF increasingly is inserting its A400Ms into logistic duties, supporting coalition forces in the Middle East; while the French Air Force has been using it in the same way in Mali and Niger – where the A400M is demonstrating the airlifter’s positive results from unpaved runways.

The Turkish Air Force, having upgraded from earlier-generation twin-engine C-160 Transall airlifters, has been extensively using its A400Ms, deploying to Mogadishu for the evacuation of Turkish citizens, and flying to Russia in support of VIP operations.

As the A400M increasingly becomes integrated into worldwide air forces, this Airbus-manufactured aircraft is setting the standard for air mobility operations.

Recently, Airbus said buyers had agreed to work on contractual changes, including a ‘new roadmap’ for development and completion of capabilities for the A400M, in simple terms less promised capabilities are to be integrated and delivery is to be slowed.

Airbus had already taken a writedown of 1.2 billion euros one year ago after the A400M suffered engine gearbox problems and delays in fitting parachuting capacity and advanced defences. It is understood that Airbus has been urging partner nations to cap its exposure to fines caused by technical delays to the programme.

We understand that Airbus is expecting the rate of production to fall from 19 per year to 15 in 2018 and 11 in 2019 in order to help to extend the life of the programme and increase the chance of export sales.

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John Clark

It’s an excellent aircraft, but it’s not acceptable that Airbus wriggle out of contractually agreed capability and commitments.

After all no one forced Airbus to bid for the program…

If that means Airbus share holders miss some dividend payments, then so be it. Rather that than European tax payers pay for Airbus shortcomings.


That or European governments could have actually ordered them in meaningful numbers. Instead of small orders that make serial production next to impossible and keeps per unit cost high.

John Clark

I would assume that an annual schedule of deliveries would have been contractually agreed and set in stone by Airbus and the customers Elliott? If not, then what a massive mistake, no wonder Airbus are deep in the sh*t with the A400! It’s yet another reason why we should steer well clear of such collaborative European projects in the future, they just can’t be trusted to order their agreed numbers. We have stuck to our agreed buy and have nearly received our allocation with 19 delivered ?? Out of our 22 on order. I’m not knocking the base design, it’s… Read more »

Mike Saul

Airbus A400M is no doubt a good cargo aircraft, lifting heavy loads over long distances. However it does not have the full capability that was specified by its customers. It fails in the airborne assault role, you cannot parachute out of both side doors at the same time, and it is unable to air refuel helicopters. These problems are due to huge down wash from its engines, these problems are difficult to cure and will require major costs to resolve. Germany has decided to procure the C130J in small numbers to overcome these deficiencies. With the benefit of hindsight, the… Read more »


(Chris H) Mike Saul – I am sorry but you are slightly out of date and your follow on statement was an impossible solution looking for a problem. The French have demonstrated multiple sticks of paras out of A400s and were doing it as far back as 2016 and I quote: “During the trial, 30 paratroopers jumped in a row from a lateral door in the clear sky above the Pyrénées. 15 flights in total were performed.” That came from: https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/a400ms-paratrooper-delivery-capability-validated/ This may come as surprise but they stopped building C-17s in 2015 due to lack of orders. In May… Read more »

Mike Saul

They cannot jump out of both lateral doors at the same time. The downwash pushes the both sticks together after exit. This is not safe.

For a air assault by parachute is to get the maximum amounts of troops into the smallest drop zone, not being to use both doors at the same prevents this.

I said with the benefit of hindsight we should have selected C17 and C130 in preferences to A400m, if that was done orders would have been placed around 2005 not now.

Mike Saul

They cannot jump out of both lateral doors at the same time. The downwash pushes the both sticks together after exit. This is not safe.

For a air assault by parachute is to get the maximum amounts of troops into the smallest drop zone, not being to use both doors at the same prevents this.


I may be wrong, but I thought the initial RAF order was for 25 aircraft, so even the UK is not immune from the habit of cutting initial orders.

Mike Saul

Most nations have cut back on orders or delayed deliveries due to increased costs.

Back in 2010 Airbus threatened to cancel the project if customers did not agree to an increase in the unit price of the aircraft.


Most of France and Germany’s orders where made up to secure higher work share they had no intention of ever ordering that many it boils my blood that the UK is now the only nation to have ordered them in significant numbers.


was thinking the same. it’s not like every order the UK government has talked about hasn’t been cut at a later date, from ships to planes to land forces.

The problem comes down to policiticans wanting to announce big orders but not having the budget to actually achieve it and then leaving it to successive governments to deal with the mess. It seems every country has the same route problem.

Steve M

I think we’re fine with 22. As with everything it would be nice to have more and I fully support getting any on the cheap that Spain, Germany et al. sell off, but airlift is an area where we are reasonably well equipped and let’s face it, there are more pressing needs for that cash.

Daniele Mandelli

I agree with Stephen M

With 22 Atlas, 8 C17 and around 14 C130J this is one area we are well provided for compared to most.

As long as the C130 are kept as per SDSR.

Mike Saul

More on the A400m paratroop drop problem

The issue of simultaneous dispatch which is where parachutists exit the aircraft from both sides at the same time. Currently the danger is that they could get too close together after dispatch risking collision: this is known in the parachuting world as crossover.

Steve M

I presume they couldn’t deploy from the ramp?

Mike Saul

They could, but the fastest and safest way to egress is via the lateral doors on each side of the aircraft.

It’s all about the troops hetting out the aircraft as quickly as possible to ensure the drop zone is kept as small as possible so they form up into an effective fighting unit as quickly as possible.

Also these troops are laden down with heavy equipment and have limited movement within the aircraft.

John Clark

Mike, this really does seem to be a grave design error, it’s amazing that computer simulation and wind tunnel testing didn’t flag that up 10 years ago!

Regards our order … We envisioned an order for 25, but accually placed an order for 22, our order is near complete after reasonably fast delivery ( once the initial issues were resolved). Germany ordered 70! Please correct me if I am wrong.

Let’s take a bet in how many they accually buy, my guess is no more than 50 tops and they sell 10 off.

Mike Saul

To be fair all aircraft suffer this problem to various degrees.

The problem for the A400m is that there doesn’t seem to be a solution.

The powerful turboprop engines with multiple large blades generate so much downwash that the problem may never be solved.

Steve M

Ahh thanks Mike. I’d advocate buying some if Germany sell any off, maybe even for once get a decent deal? In fact I’d look at getting as many as possible from sell-offs (not new) to replace the Hercs, as the government always seems to need to scrap something.

Richard Eccleston

The original RAF order was 24 which was reduced to 22 (of which 19 have been delivered as of June 21st 2018) with 2 options. Still have about 2/3rds of the fleet without defensive aids capability and will never get the AAR capability due to a clause in Air Tankers contracted making sure that only they will provide AAR capability

Anthony D

Realistically though, does anyone see it as likely that we will be doing mass parachute drops? And if we do we have c130…is there any merit in phasing out c130 for more atlas?

Daniele Mandelli

No as DSF wanted C130 retained.