Airbus warns of bug that could affect A400M engines after fatal crash

A file picture dated Nov 7, 2014, shows an Airbus A400M plane at the airport in Seville, Spain. -- PHOTO: EPA
A file picture dated Nov 7, 2014, shows an Airbus A400M plane at the airport in Seville, Spain. -- PHOTO: EPA

PARIS (AFP) - Airbus on Tuesday warned of a technical bug potentially affecting the engines of its A400M that was discovered during an internal test after one of the military planes crashed in Spain.

The company said in a statement it had sent out an alert to its clients urging them to carry out "specific checks of the Electronic Control Units (ECU) on each of the aircraft's engines".

The ECU controls how the aircraft's engine operates and an expert in the sector speaking on condition of anonymity said that a software bug could lead to a loss of control of engine power.

The potential flaw was uncovered during an internal analysis separate from an official investigation into the crash of an A400M cargo plane near Seville which killed four people 10 days ago.

"To avoid potential risks in any future flights, Airbus Defence and Space has informed the operators about necessary actions to take."

Airbus said the results of its internal test have "immediately been shared with the official investigation team."

The crash of the A400M a few minutes into a test flight just north of Seville's airport prompted five countries - Spain, Britain, Germany, Turkey and Malaysia - to ground their planes pending the outcome of the probe.

Two of the six people on board the plane, a mechanic and an engineer, survived the crash and were sent to hospital in critical condition.

DOGGED BY DELAYS

France, which has six of the planes in active service, said it would only carry out the most pressing flights until more details emerge on why the plane went down.

In Germany, which has one A400M, the defence ministry said it was studying the Airbus alert.

However, the ministry said Airbus could not yet establish the bug was responsible for the Seville accident as their analysis has not been compared to the data on the two black boxes.

The development of the A400M, a large, propeller-driven transport aircraft, was launched in 2003 to respond to the needs of seven Nato members - Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey - with Malaysia joining in 2005.

A total of 174 A400M planes have since been ordered by the eight nations, which are seeking to replace their ageing Hercules fleets.

The plane's 12-wheel landing gear allows it to land on soft and rough airstrips as short as 750 metres (2,500 feet), making it ideal for military and humanitarian missions.

However the French defence ministry said Tuesday it had requested an Airbus report on the capacities of the A400M and the calendar for delivery of future aircraft before "taking a decision" on its future use of the plane.

The crash in Seville - where the A400M is assembled - was a blow to the Airbus programme which has already been dogged by years of delays and cost overruns.

The aircraft's development cost €10 billion (S$15 billion) more than the planned €20 billion.

Many of the setbacks, which saw the first aircraft delivered four years late in 2013, have been related to engine troubles.