Software Malfunction Airbus Confirms Cause of Plane Crash

The crash of an Airbus A400M military transport carrier earlier this month was caused by a software glitch, the European plane builder told Handelsblatt.
Germany, Spain and Turkey have still grounded Airbus's A400M military transporter, pending results from the Spanish investigators.

Airplane and defense company company Airbus, headquartered in the south of France, has received black box flight data from the A400M transporter that crashed on May 9 during a test flight in Spain.

“We were able to view the information yesterday for the first time and it confirms our internal analysis,” Airbus chief strategy officer Marwan Lahoud told Handelsblatt on Thursday.

Software used to control the engines, which is made by a Munich engine maker, MTU, was probably installed incorrectly and caused the crash, Handelsblatt learned last week.

“The black boxes confirm this. There are no structural defects. We have a serious quality control problem in the final assembly,” Mr. Lahoud said.

If Spanish investigators, who are leading the investigation into the causes of the crash, confirm this finding it would be a relief to Airbus, which has factories in France, Germany, Britain, Spain and other countries.

However, if the crash had other causes, this could mean a need for design changes to the engines, which would cause considerably longer delays in the production schedule.

Military Transport Aircraft A400M-01 Airbus orders and in use


The transport carrier, Europe's largest, has been dogged by cost overruns and delays in a project that began in 2003 and has cost more than €20 billion ($22.2 billion).

Airbus hopes to be able to sell the A400M to more customers than those on its initial list of buyers, which include Germany, France and other countries. Only then can the European consortium hope to make a profit from a program that has run way beyond its initial cost estimates.

Normally, MTU would have installed the software on the plane. But in this case, it was apparently installed directly by Airbus employees who were testing the aircraft, Airbus employees who declined to be named told Handelsblatt earlier this month.

The software error apparently caused three of the aircraft carrier's four turbo-prop engines to fail during takeoff, the people said.

Video: Flying the Airbus A400M.

Airbus still wants to deliver 14 to 18 A400M aircraft to customers this year. But this will only be possible if Spanish authorities confirm Airbus's initial results and decide against additional safety or technical requirements that would necessitate changes in design or production.

In Germany, the A400M is meant to replace the Transall, the main transport carrier of European militaries, which have been in service for decades.

While France and Airbus continued to allow their aircraft to take off, Turkey, Germany and the United Kingdom chose not to conduct any further test flights after the accident.

These countries' armed forces intend to keep the planes grounded until the official investigation report has been released. Only then can negotiations proceed with companies over the delivery of additional aircraft, an official, who declined to be named, told Handelsblatt last week.

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Thomas Hanke is a Handelsblatt correspondent in Paris. To reach the author:  [email protected]