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Black boxes of crashed A400M plane found, aircraft grounded
By Daniel SILVA
Madrid (AFP) May 10, 2015

Britain, Germany and Turkey ground A400 military planes
Paris (AFP) May 10, 2015 - Britain, Germany and Turkey said Sunday they were temporarily grounding their Airbus A400M military transport planes after one crashed near Seville airport in southern Spain during a test flight.

France, which has six of the planes, said it would only carry out "top priority flights" with A400M until more facts emerge on what caused the accident.

The wave of groundings prompted Spain's Defence Minister Pedro Morenes, speaking at an EU meeting in western France, to urge countries not to make "hasty conclusions" before the investigation into the crash was complete.

"One must not fall into easy criticism of a company which has shown itself to be extremely dynamic and competitive," Morenes said.

At least four people were killed Saturday when an A400M crashed in the first fatal incident involving the new troop and vehicle transporter manufactured by European aerospace group Airbus.

A spokesman for the German armed forces told AFP they had decided to "suspend until further notice the test flights of the German defence forces' sole A400M."

The spokesman added that "since its delivery in December the plane "has been in the air on a regular basis".

"Now we are awaiting results from Airbus on why the A400M crashed near Seville. We are in constant contact with Airbus."

- 'Of very high quality' -

Britain's Ministry of Defence earlier said in a statement that "as a precaution" its two A400M aircraft "are temporarily paused."

Turkey also announced it had suspended flights of its A400Ms.

"Turkey's air force has temporarily suspended the flights of its two Airbus A400M after the fatal crash of a similar type of aircraft in southern Spain," state-run Anatolia news agency reported on Sunday.

The planes have been temporarily grounded as part of "security measures," said Anatolia.

France meanwhile said it had "no facts compelling us to ground our A400M fleet."

French air force spokesman Colonel Jean-Pascal Breton told AFP said that technically, the planes conformed to army requirements and while the army would not skip over security issues "we don't have any reasons to ground the fleet at this stage."

However French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian later told the media that only the most urgent operations using the A400 were being authorised.

He also expressed his support for Airbus amid the wave of groundings of an aircraft he said was "of very high quality" with over 1,700 flight hours with the French air force.

Authorities are still trying to establish how many people were aboard the plane when it went down in a non-residential area around a mile from Seville airport on Saturday.

Airbus Defence and Space, the division responsible for military aircraft, said the plane had been heading for Turkey.

The group sent a team of experts to the crash scene.

The first of the A400Ms was delivered in 2013 to France which now has six. Subsequent planes were delivered to Turkey (2), Germany (1), Britain (2) and Malaysia (1).

A total of 174 A400M planes have been ordered, including 50 by France, 53 by Germany, 27 by Spain and 22 by Britain.

Powered by four turbo-prop engines, the A400M is designed to transport troops and material, including armoured vehicles and helicopters, over great distances at high speeds.

Capable of transporting up to 37 tonnes over 3,300 kilometres, the A400M is still nimble enough to land on irregular terrain.

Spanish authorities on Sunday found the two cockpit recorders of the Airbus A400M military plane that crashed near Seville airport, killing four people, as Britain, Germany and Turkey grounded their models of the aircraft.

The recorders were found at the scene of Saturday's crash and turned over to the judge who is leading the judicial investigation into the accident, the public works ministry said in a statement.

The military transport plane crashed in a field and burst into flames just north of Seville's airport after hitting a power line during an apparent attempt at an emergency landing.

Four people on board died while another two, a mechanic and an engineer, were taken to hospital where they are listed in serious but stable condition.

Dozens of investigators, some wearing a protective white suit, scoured the crash scene on Sunday for clues into the cause of the accident.

Aircraft manufacturers equip all their planes with two black boxes -- a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.

The flight data recorder records a stream of flight information such as altitude and air speed, while the cockpit voice recorder stores conversations and other noises made in the cockpit.

The plane, due for delivery to the Turkish air force in June, was one of the new A400M troop and vehicle transporters manufactured by European aerospace group Airbus.

The crash was the first involving one of the aircraft, which Airbus assembles at a plant in Seville.

Britain, Germany and Turkey said they would temporarily stop flying their A400M transport planes until the causes of the accident were known.

France, the largest operator of A400Ms, said it was not grounding its planes at this point.

"We have no reason to lead us to stop our A400 fleet," said Colonel Jean-Pascal Breton, head of the press service of the French air force.

Malaysia, which received its first A400M plane in March, has not yet announced its position.

There are a total of 12 A400M planes in use at the moment -- France has six, Britain and Turkey have two each and Malaysia and Germany each have one.

- Beset by problems -

The Spanish government said it would form a joint commission involving the budget and defence ministries to investigate the accident, which is also being probed by Spain's Guardia Civil police.

Airbus Defence and Space, the division responsible for military aircraft, sent a team of experts to the crash scene to help with the investigation.

The A400M programme has been beset by problems since it was launched in 2003.

In addition to production and delivery delays, the programme ran 30 percent -- or 6.2 billion euros ($7 billion) -- over budget.

In 2010, Airbus mulled scrapping the entire project amid doubts about its financial viability.

In the end the programme was maintained, but not without renewed troubles.

Shortly after Germany took delivery of its first A400M last January -- four years late -- Der Spiegel published a list of 875 construction errors or malfunctions detected in the plane.

In January, Airbus CEO Tom Enders offered an apology to British officials for continued delays to seven A400M aircraft earmarked for delivery in 2015.

He described industrial reasons for the delays as "not catastrophic" but sufficiently "embarrassing" to merit remedial measures.

Airbus -- which was previously forced to set aside 551 million euros from 2014 earnings to pay for continued delays -- has yet to reveal a promised new delivery schedule for A400M planes.

Speaking to Spanish public television during events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Lorient, western France, Spanish Defence Minister Pedro Morenes defended the A400M project.

"We have the best engineers, a huge capacity for design, we have phenomenal companies and I think this is something that needs to be investigated but the A400M is a top-notch plane," he said.

A total of 174 A400M planes have been ordered, including 50 by France, 53 by Germany, 27 by Spain and 22 by Britain.



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