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Ottawa Perspective: Airlift Setback

Canada’s aerospace industry risks isolation as realpolitik becomes increasingly evident in the cutthroat world of international aviation.


October 2, 2007
By Ken Pole

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Canada’s aerospace industry risks isolation as realpolitik becomes
increasingly evident in the cutthroat world of international aviation.
Example: Airbus decides to buy engines for its A400M military transport
from another European consortium rather than Pratt & Whitney Canada
(P&WC). This despite Airbus’ confirmation only a few days earlier
that the Canadian proposal was more economic than a rival bid by
EuroProp International (EPI), by as much as 20%.

Current demand for the A400M is estimated at 400 aircraft, including a
European launch order for 180. The balance would come from sundry
buyers other than the US, China and former Soviet countries that
continue to jealously protect their indigenous production. According to
Alasdair Reynolds, a spokesman for Airbus Military in Toulouse, demand
is calculated on “an analysis of existing fleets, forecast replacements
and new acquisitions in the categories of aircraft the A400M is
designed to replace.” Also on a basis of one-for-two in the case of the
C-130 Hercules and C-160 Transall type aircraft.

There
currently are about 1,200 aircraft of this type in use worldwide. On
average, most NATO fleets are more than two decades old with inadequate
payload, range and transit speed to fulfill a seemingly ever-increasing
range of tasking. Age is becoming a problem for the Canadian Forces’ 32
CC-130 Hercs, the backbone of this country’s airlift capacity. Twenty
of the older aircraft – acquired between 1960 and 1975 – were recently
grounded temporarily due to concern over age-related fatigue cracking
in the centre-wing structure.

The Airbus contract that P&WC
lost would have been for 900 engines, enough to power the launch order
and supply a reasonable number of spares. It would have been worth the
equivalent of some $4.7 billion at current exchange rates. First flight
of the four-engine A400M turboprop now is scheduled for 2008 with
initial deliveries to France in late 2009; the original dates were 2006
and 2008. Airbus expects that once the aircraft enters service, other
potential buyers will add their names to the list. If production does
rise to 400 or more aircraft, the engine order could be worth in the
neighbourhood of $10 billion.


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