July 22, 2013 By Gerald Traufetter - spiegel.de
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, in trouble over the costly cancellation of the Euro Hawk drone, faces a potentially even greater problem. Certification for the A400M military transport plane is behind schedule and plagued by legal pitfalls.
The image was truly emblematic: A huge, heavy transport plane painted in camouflage gray stood unable to move, the wheels of its landing gear sunk up to the axles in the soft sand of eastern Germany's Lausitz region.
Although the incident occurred more than a year ago, few people heard about the pilot mishap that stranded the A400M Atlas aircraft. That is, apart from the manufacturer -- Airbus Military -- the German armed forces, and the six European air forces that had put in orders for the massive four-engine turboprop plane.
The aircraft, which was designed for a maximum starting weight of 141 metric tonnes, was undergoing tests on the grass runway of Cottbus-Drewitz Airport. The test landing had gone without a hitch, but when roll and braking tests were conducted, the heavy prototype suddenly slid, and its left undercarriage ploughed into the ground.
The image of the stricken colossus could be symbolic of the fate of German military procurement at the present time -- and yet the aircraft is part of a prestigious European project, with orders for 170 planes worth a combined €25 billion ($32.9 billion). Last year crews spent hours using shovels and heavy lifting gear to free the plane from the sandy ground. But now a different and far more serious problem threatens to keep it grounded: The German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, can't meet the legal requirements for getting military certification for the A400M.