A400M Release to Service

The A400M is approaching its release to service date for the RAF, a few years away but things are slotting into place.

RAF A400M Atlas
RAF A400M Atlas

The MoD have recently advertised a contract opportunity for the;

Provision of Release to Service (RTS) A400M- Delta Capability

All A400M’s start off at a common base standard and then nation specific modifications and additions are applied. The word Delta is significant in this context, the difference between the two.

Provision of Aircraft Test, Evaluation and Acceptance services for the A400M Atlas Project Team to develop certification, qualification and Release to Service of the UK capability requirement additional to the A400M common standard aircraft.

The requirement is for the production of the additional evidence to expand the contents of the A400M Release to Service (RTS) and update associated documentation to cover UK specific operation of the aircraft, cargo and loads.
Examples of Sub tasks potentially required as part of the service include but are not limited to:

Application of an appropriate Test and Evaluation Process;

Collation of theoretical, analytical and trials evidence in a format suitable for submission to the RTS Authority;

Definition of test packages that will best exploit limited aircraft availability;

Production of Ground and/or Flight Test Proposals;

Production of Ground and/or Flight Trials Instructions;

Analysis of associated risks and production of Safety Assessment Reports to support Ground and/or Flight Trials;

Conduct of Ground and/or Flight Trials;

Reporting of Ground and/or Flight Trials;

Provision of information in a suitable format to update the Aircrew Manual, Flight Reference Cards and Operational Data Manual;

Production of structured arguments based on review and analysis of existing information to justify submissions to the RTS, Safety Case and other documentation.

The estimated cost for this is £30m to £50m

Let me say that again, £30m to £50m

This is for a factory fresh aircraft, an aircraft in which the UK is a development partner and this activity will be repeated by the other customers no doubt.

I never cease to be amazed at the cost of this type of activity and in this case, the obvious fact that the MoD cannot perform the task itself.

There has been talk of harmonising military aircraft release to service procedures across Europe but nothing  seems to have much happened.

The UK seems to be pricing itself out of generating military capability.


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March 2, 2014 1:55 pm

TD I feel your pain! Probably be done by qinetiq at boscome down. The RAF could accept the aircraft a la the c17 and not modify it at all and start flying it like the French have but they have decided to change things such as the das system as seen ordered here http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/article-xml/asd_03_05_2013_p02-01-555358.xml the pros and cons I’m sure debated long and hard.

March 2, 2014 2:03 pm

300-500 man years, given the typical £100k pa per person the defence industry charges for work done. It’s all labour rates, no hardware in the requirements. Add on another 20% for Abbey Wood internal costs, but I don’t think they are ever costed properly.

Another way of thinking about it is as team of 100 people working full time for 3-5 years to achieve release to service. Is that about right? It’s what the maths says, but it sounds a bit profligate to me.

March 2, 2014 3:21 pm

@ TD

‘The UK seems to be pricing itself out of generating military capability.’

Not far off word for word what was said just a few months ago amongst those that get paid far more than me. The extra costs of safety cases and RTS etc have been noted. The only problem is I don’t think we’ve really got to grips with what sort of risk we want and are happy with across the MoD as a whole. There are people looking now at the needs (and costs) of such trials, whether we re-evaluate the whole idea or not is open to question. Personally I suspect not, HC still looms amongst the MOD’s corridors.
Although the real issue, to me, isn’t the cost. If done properly it can/will save far more money than having an accident. So the saying goes ‘If you think aircraft safety is expensive, try having an accident’. The issue to me is will the information gathered be used properly now and throughout A400M service life? Little point doing all this if we ignore what the report tells us and we haven’t got the best reputation in that regard.

March 2, 2014 4:17 pm

“I suspect not, HC still looms amongst the MOD’s corridors.”

@ Topman: Brilliantly put….but then the HC report should loom large given the endemic record of failure it catalogued.

March 2, 2014 6:37 pm

Well there is the cost of the paper with many pages of A4 that read: Section x.x.x sub section c, Provision to carry dogs, no special requirements. End of page next useless observation please…

Elm Creek Smith
Elm Creek Smith
March 3, 2014 10:21 pm

Release to Service?

1. Will it fly?

2. Will it haul all the crap we want it to haul?

3. Will it do so without crashing?

4. WTF?

@TED – I think you’re right. In the US Army many a manual has “This page intentionally left blank.” on the pages between sections. I think this is like the warnings on portable electric hair dryers: “Do not use this product under water.”

March 3, 2014 10:46 pm

Its not even that though. Its comments like “this does not apply” well why did you right the piggin heading then?

“This page intentionally left blank” maybe stop giving me blank pages. Seriously if you’ve got nothing to put on the page just include instructions on how to fold into bog roll!

Elm Creek Smith
Elm Creek Smith
March 3, 2014 11:02 pm

@TED – “This does not apply.” I suppose that’s just in case you think you might need to know how many ferrets (the critter, not the armo(u)red car) can fit inside one of the things. :D

March 4, 2014 10:52 am

Its not even that though. Its comments like “this does not apply” well why did you right the piggin heading then?

Because it has to be demonstrated that all aspects have been considered. I have been involved with aircraft safety cases (which will be the precursor to a CRS as RAF specific equipment has been installed) they are costly time consuming , laborious exhaustive (and dull).

March 4, 2014 11:23 am

I understand they need to know the limits but… for instance a basic training aircraft having pages on operational deployment or certified weapons: fllowed by this does not apply is pointless.

Damn, I was hoping to take my tutor to Bastion and give the Taliban a hiding :D

March 4, 2014 12:16 pm

I understand they need to know the limits but… for instance a basic training aircraft having pages on operational deployment or certified weapons: fllowed by this does not apply is pointless.

Well some Trainers are armed.. (smiley)

I suspect the above relates to either
using a standard format and rather than argue about changes or re – issue a different format (at a not insignificant cost) its easier (and cheaper) to just stick N/A in there.
Or (possibly And) some equipment may not require additional work. unfortunately omitting something doesn’t always mean checks weren’t required it can just be it got missed, sticking in the old N/A lets everyone know It hasn’t been forgotten.

Edit to add in the case of the tutor you would think it was obvious weapons weren’t integrated, but perhaps a clear chapter stating this helps when beating the defence minister over the head whilst explaining Spitfire = A Low wing single prop fighter aircraft
A Low wing single prop does not = A Fighter aircraft

March 4, 2014 10:11 pm

You may have a point there. No minister we can’t use Viglants for QRA!

The Ginge
The Ginge
March 5, 2014 12:54 pm

As a layman not as technically knowledgeable as a lot of people on this site, I find it truly amazing that you buy an airplane from Airbus and you have to do your own certification work to allow it to fly. BA, Virgin and any number of freight companies all have different spec A320’s but Airbus gets certification on all of them. It is items like these that I can see a politician who is not like Philip Hammond involved in the day to day detail going, hold on we have spent £xxxM to buy the damn things and they still can’t fly ! It works out at £3.3m an aircraft to test what. It was designed with UK spec items from day 1, it should fly with them. Stick a test plane up over Salisbury Plain and start throwing items out of the back. It’ll work or it won’t and we’ll have a tweak to the system. But can somebody please advise me what happens during this testing if some serious problem arises. Like when we parachute heavy Cargo out the rear door isn’t strong enough etc etc. Are we now going to have to have a major redesign because this wasn’t tested in the extensive test programme Airbus ran during the design phase ? I agree this is unlikely but it really does seem silly to be testing aircraft systems after they have started to be built and delivered.
Second point why are we going to spend £226m on a training facility for only 18 aircraft. I thought the idea of Atlas (by the way I prefer the non PC name of Grizzly) was that it would have a shared training facility with everybody who bought the plane sharing the cost ? With only 18 aircraft it does seem a little excessive? Or am I being too simplistic. At the end of the day this aircraft at the moment is a big fancy flying truck surely there cannot be such exclusive secrets we are putting on it.
Other air freight companies wouldn’t build a dedicated training facility for 18 planes, private operators seem to fly freight in to high threat areas like Kandahar without spending £12.5m per aircraft in training, it’s not as if we asking it to land on rough airstrips under fire and have missiles etc hanging of it.
So as a Layman I have to say why can’t the RAF do this efficiently like the commercial sector ?

March 5, 2014 2:21 pm

@ Ginge

Airbus / Boeing, Embraer/ all build a standard aircraft (or possibly a few variants) , If you start buggering about with the basic spec, the additional costs of certification and testing are on you the customer.

If you want a different Radio, Radar, IFE system at any point in its life, you will have to stump up the cash. This applies to BA and everyone else as well. Gods forbid you want to fit some non standard thing such as Flir / secure Comms/ Nite sun that gets really messy.

I have seen BA spend an absolute fortune on aircraft with no more than delivery mileage on them, because they wanted different seats and IFE.

Airbus with the A380 attempted to be clever and on day 1 to deliver different customer variants, therein lies about 50% of what went wrong with that project, To many alternative build standards before 1 basic design was ironed out.
Conversations like the following occurred with monotonous regularity.
“I cant put the wires here because there is a water pipe there”
” Not on my drawing there isn’t”
” well there is on the blood airplane”

The A400 has a CRS and is ready to go, the RAF want a few different things fitted and these require testing .

The door will have been tested to a max weight by airbus already, most of the tests required by the RAF will be Avionic systems. the systems being tested are changes not what’s already fitted.

Serious problems related to RAF kit are our problem, If the door was to fail and the RAF hadn’t buggered about with it Airbus bear full responsibility.

As for training I thought it was going to be joint, but 226 million may be either the UK share of a joint cost or the cost of 2 simulators and 10 years support.

March 5, 2014 3:26 pm

What’s on the drawing, what actually there always fun conversations…

226m is for the uk training centre over an 18 year period. Initial raf personnel have gone to the airbus international a400m training centre in Seville I believe.

It’s like when you insure your car and the insurer asks have you modified the vehicle from the manufacturers spec only it the military airworthiness authority asking the questions in this case.

March 5, 2014 3:41 pm

@ Mark re there and not there

Truly nothing will beat the day I was dragged into the office for a severe dressing down, I had written up and signed to say job Jobbed. On inspection of the area they could not find the wiring harness and light, so decided I hadn’t done it.

I listened to the bollocking then pointed out the task was a deletion not an installation, so they wouldn’t.

The Ginge
The Ginge
March 5, 2014 4:33 pm

Dear Lindermyer
Thanks for the reply.
As an outsider who normally gets to look at these complex systems after a significant event has occurred, it just amazes me how many times we(ad I mean the Royal we as in all UK entities and companies) buy something and then as an afterthought start sticking bespoke kit on it.
I get that UK specific equipment needs to be tested, but surely it is not beyond reason whilst designing the A400 that each nation would for example want to install its own secure communication equipment. Now you can either get each country to provide equipment or specs or you test you avionics for all type of emissions to make sure there is no interference in an appropriate testing sell. But to do this after you start receiving planes to me just seems a little like locking the door after the horse has bolted.
As this is a purpose designed plane for the RAF I can’t see what you would be adding to a Transport plane that is going to need £60m worth of testing. At the end of the day the bespoke adding of defensive measures and flir etc to the BAe146’s bought under UOR did not cost this much.
So as part of the original partnership that ordered this aircraft I would have thought it incumbent on Airbus to test our equipment and not just say the French’s.
Even if there is still testing to do, from the type of equipment that goes on a Transport aircraft I really can’t see how you spend £60m, £10m maybe at a push.
I really would love to know what super doper equipment we are sticking on these aircraft that the French or Germans are not. It’s not as if it’s a Typhon where you are integrated complicated items like UK only missiles etc. Further what does this equipment do that the standard build couldn’t and is the extra expenditure truly worth it for our A400’s to do more than the French ?
Just seems a lot of money to spend for not of a lot of extra capability.

March 5, 2014 5:57 pm

@ Ginge

I get that UK specific equipment needs to be tested, but surely it is not beyond reason whilst designing the A400 that each nation would for example want to install its own secure communication equipment. Now you can either get each country to provide equipment or specs or you test you avionics for all type of emissions to make sure there is no interference in an appropriate testing sell.

The thing with that is Airbus would have to install al the kit , then remove it and install the other kit, in addition installing isn’t just bolting in there is no guarantee that 2 systems will use the same mounts, it is almost guaranteed that the wiring will be different, Power consumption will be different so that’s another ELA for each configuration.
This would add significant time and cost to the development of the aircraft.
Its cheaper all round for each customer to just pay for their bit fitted (as opposed to fitted and removed for each customer) A different test aircraft for each configuration would be a nightmare and unfeasible.

That said the figure seems extraordinarily high and I suspect typical Journo mischief and it includes equipment costs (such as the DAS ) and lots of other things that are not just for the testing and will remain fitted.

As for much more capability, a lot isn’t so much capability in these things as compatibility. with respect to the DAS its my understanding that the UK has a higher requirement.

I am not involved with the A400 nor am I serving, I am only calling on my past experience and knowledge of the Aviation world in General. I would hate to think I inadvertently walt and give credence to my points.


P.S ELA Electrical Load Analysis – nearly did an M&S there with random acronyms

March 5, 2014 9:45 pm

@ TD
That figure just seems too high for just testing.

Test schedules / safety cases etc would normally be produced by the company that produces the modification ie the RAF fit.

I just wonder if the figure quoted involves more than the article states, as the article is focused on the CRS perhaps the modification side has not been shown but has been counted.

Or the UK could be paying well over the odds

March 6, 2014 9:11 am

Well I assumed Fuel was included, but you are right I had neglected the Pilots accommodation, that’s a cool million right there

March 6, 2014 9:15 am

@TD now that would be expensive. Don’t forget the cost of paper and ink for all those really insightful comments and useful hints!

Overlooked in the carrier debate yes you have an expensive aircraft carrier over just flying jets to the land somewhere near by. But then the Kevins have got to stay somewhere. And well if theres a (an?) Hotel there it would be rude not to wouldn’t it!

April 11, 2014 10:50 pm

I guarantee you the RAF could do this work in house.
We would have been better placed had we not sold off DERA.
We could not, however, act as our own independent safety assessor and that us what it’s all about today.
Qinetiq or whoever wins conducts a trial to expand capability alongside the RAF and takes ownership of the risk of that activity both on trial and use of that capability in future service.
This is all a consequence of Haddon Cave.