Nations ground A400M planes after deadly Spain crash

Smoke rises from the wreckage of an Airbus A400 which crashed in the San Pablo airport in Seville, southern Spain on May 9, 2015. Britain, Germany and Turkey said on Sunday, May 10, that they were temporarily grounding their Airbus A400M militar
Smoke rises from the wreckage of an Airbus A400 which crashed in the San Pablo airport in Seville, southern Spain on May 9, 2015. Britain, Germany and Turkey said on Sunday, May 10, that they were temporarily grounding their Airbus A400M military transport planes after one crashed in Seville during a test flight. -- PHOTO: EPA

MADRID (AFP) - Britain, Germany and Turkey grounded their Airbus A400M military transport planes Sunday after one crashed in Spain, killing four people, as authorities hailed passers-by who rescued two survivors.

The pair, a mechanic and an engineer, were in stable but serious condition at hospitals in Seville, the capital of the southwestern region of Andalusia.

The plane, due for delivery to the Turkish air force in June, crashed in a field just north of Seville’s airport on Saturday after hitting a power line in an apparent attempt at an emergency landing.

The plane 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 A400M military airlifters, 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, the 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.

Full investigation

Spain’s Guardia Civil police force has opened a probe into the accident while the Spanish government said it would form a joint commission involving the budget ministry and the defence ministry to investigate.

Airbus Defence and Space, the Airbus division responsible for military aircraft, sent a team of experts to the crash scene to help with the investigation. “We will do all it takes to support the authorities in their investigation, which has just been launched,” Airbus Group president Tom Enders said in a Twitter message late on Saturday.

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 per cent – 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, Enders offered an apology to British officials for continued delays to seven A400M craft 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.

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

The crash is the second big military airplane tragedy in Spain this year. In January, a Greek fighter jet experienced technical failure during takeoff and crashed into pilots and mechanics on the ground, killing 11 people and injuring 21.