Airbus division boss to take control of A400M tests to restore confidence

Company faces international credibility crisis following air crash in Seville Government promises full-scale investigations to determine causes

Fernando Alonso, head of Airbus’s military aircraft division, talks to reporters in Seville on Monday.
Fernando Alonso, head of Airbus’s military aircraft division, talks to reporters in Seville on Monday.Paco Puentes

Faced with an international loss in confidence following the A400M crash that left four people dead over the weekend in Seville, the head of Airbus’s military aircraft division announced on Monday that he would personally take control of the model’s resumed test flights.

Fernando Alonso, who is also the chief of Airbus Defence in Spain, said that he did not want to speculate on the causes of Saturday’s accident.

Appearing before reporters at a news conference in which no questions were permitted, Alonso, who also has piloted the A400M in test runs, asked company employees for discretion as a team of engineers worked with government and judicial investigators to determine why the military cargo plane crashed soon after takeoff during flight trials on Saturday.

The reality is that we must demonstrate our professionalism despite our pain”

The A400M crashed into an electricity pylon shortly after alerting air traffic control that it was experiencing problems. A witness said that “almost the entire plane turned into ash.”

The accident has prompted the United Kingdom, Turkey, France, Germany and Malaysia to suspend use of the Airbus A400M. The company’s shares have also dropped on the stock exchange.

“The reality is that we must demonstrate our professionalism despite our pain,” Alonso said, adding that testing would resume on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Airbus employees have asked for transparency in the investigations; Alonso has assured them that they will receive all the information they are requesting, but that the company’s security protocols had to be respected.

Two pilots and two test engineers lost their lives in the crash while two others remain in hospital with burns and injuries.

In Vienna, Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said he was concerned about the consequences that the accident could have on the company’s 50,000 Spanish employees. He said that he hoped that the testing of the military troop and cargo carrier would “resume quickly.”

Investigations  will be “very rigorous and extensive,” says deputy PM

An investigating judge was given the plane’s flight recorders, which reportedly suffered “significant damage caused by the heavy impact and subsequent fire,” according to authorities.

In Seville, Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaría said that investigations being carried out by the Public Works and Defense ministries would be “very rigorous and extensive.”

She said the project was “very important” for Spain, which was why the investigation would be exhaustive and heavily coordinated.

In 2003 the Airbus Group signed a contract with seven European NATO countries to provide them with A400M models for military and humanitarian purposes at a cost of €31 billion. Germany ordered 60 planes, France requested 50, while Spain and the UK agreed to purchase 27 and 25, respectively.

In total, 184 A400M were to be provided to the seven countries plus an additional four to Malaysia. South Africa had ordered eight planes but later withdrew from the contract.

After more than three years of delays and billions in cost overruns, European governments injected more money into the project in 2010. But delays and technical problems resurfaced last year, leading to a management shake-up, according to Reuters.

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