The successful evacuation of 2,450 British nationals from war-torn Sudan by the Royal Air Force (RAF) last month has again demonstrated the unique capabilities of the A400M aircraft.

This week, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) took delivery of its 22nd ‘Atlas’ – as the aircraft is affectionately known – at ceremonies in Seville, Spain, where the aircraft is assembled, and RAF Brize Norton, where the UK fleet is based.

The delivery of MSN129 completes the RAF’s order for the A400M – the first Airbus Home Country to receive its full fleet, albeit with potential for more orders in the future. But Monday’s handover of the aircraft by no means marks the end of Airbus’ involvement with the 22-strong Atlas fleet.

Adjacent to the Brize Norton runway is a state-of-the-art, three-bay hangar, complete with modern, open-plan offices, meeting spaces, operation rooms and a communal canteen, where 250 Airbus engineers and support staff work alongside RAF personnel to provide maintenance services for the A400M fleet at the Oxfordshire base.

“The flexibility of the A400M coupled with improving availability and capability are demonstrating well what the A400M can do,” says Simon Haywood, Airbus’ Head of UK Support Centre at Brize Norton.

“The Humanitarian evacuation in Sudan was the latest example, where the aircraft’s superior capacity coupled with its ability to operate from short and often difficult operating surfaces helped evacuate UK nationals against a tight ceasefire window.  We also saw how the A400M’s versatility supported humanitarian efforts in Turkey, Afghanistan, the Caribbean and other areas affected by natural disasters.

“My Airbus team and I are proud to be a fully-embedded constituent element of the A400M Whole Force and proud of the part we play in supporting the Air Mobility Force in delivering military capability for UK.”

Team Atlas at Brize is responsible for keeping the A400M serviced and flying through routine maintenance checks and longer-term servicing, known as C-checks. Airbus’ Ian Burrett, who oversees support centres for all Atlas operators, said: “Team Atlas has the capability to carry out light and heavy C-checks on the A400M fleet, as well as routine maintenance.

“The hangar at Brize Norton is one of the most modern maintenance facilities in the world and can take up to three aircraft at any one time. One bay is also designed to service an A330 MRTT in case it’s needed.”

Team Atlas Hangar

Team Atlas embodies the Airbus Defence and Space philosophy of teams always being on duty to serve customers’, partners’ and society’s needs. Airbus products are used in the most extreme conditions, and have to be ready at a moment’s notice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The focus is always to ensure Airbus people can do their work effectively and to the highest standards.

Since entering RAF service in 2014, the A400M Atlas has repeatedly proven itself. It contributed fully to the military response to COVID, transporting patients, equipment and vaccines, ​and has provided support to UK Defence operations around the globe. It has flown more missions and moved 1,000 more people than any other aircraft type for the RAF.

In addition, Atlas supports enduring operations in NATO Air Policing operations in the Baltic and, in the UK, Atlas has a 24/7 national standby commitment andhas supported the UK Border Force with maritime reconnaissance (MRR) in the English Channel, long-range search and rescue (SAR) and ‘over watch’.

The RAF’s Mike Hadley runs operational assistance activities at Brize Norton and leads the planning for what the aircraft need to be doing on any particular day. He is also responsible for coordinating the training of pilots and loadmasters and ensuring the crews are ready to do the job the Ministry of Defence asks them to do.

In order to plan the fleet’s daily programme, Mike’s team works closely with Airbus engineers working as part of Team Atlas in the maintenance hangar, meeting twice a day for regular updates on the maintenance activities of the aircraft.

“We have a very close working relationship, starting with the daily 8.30 meeting with the engineers to understand how many aeroplanes we have got that day. It’s very much a joint enterprise and the spirit of Team Atlas is flourishing.

“The focus on predictable availability has meant I can plan ahead with more confidence. This is where the face-to-face meetings with the engineers has really helped. And the numbers are definitely steadier.”

Delivery Ferry A400M RAF

And Mike, a qualified pilot instructor, is full of admiration for the A400M: “The aeroplane is superb. Just take Afghanistan for example: the number of people we were able to get into the back of the A400M compared to the Hercules and get them out of Kabul was incomparable.

“The performance of the aircraft compared to the Hercules – and I’ve flown Hercs for 20 years - you’re just not concerned about performance in a ‘hot and high’ situation with the A400M. And if you look at the operation we did to resupply fuel drums to the British Antarctic survey, in six days we accomplished what would previously have taken more than two weeks, simply because the A400M’s capacity and capability is so much better. It’s a fantastic aircraft and an absolute pleasure to fly.”

To learn more about the A400M click here.