With exceptional range and lifting capacity, Airbus’ A400M is becoming the transport aircraft of choice for air forces worldwide

The Airbus-built A400M Atlas on display at this week’s 2018 Singapore Airshow is one of the hardest-working in service. Operated by the Malaysian Air Force, this airlifter is among three A400Ms logging the most flights to date worldwide, with the other two top-activity aircraft also flying with the Malaysian military.

A major driver for Malaysia’s A400M fleet acquisition was the country’s objective to be a regional leader in humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) operations. Its aircraft already have risen to the task, having provided relief supplies to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, for example.

In the two years since the previous Singapore Airshow, the number of four-engine A400Ms in service has nearly tripled, from just over 20 to 58 today. The full 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.

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. 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. Britain’s 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.