German air force investigates latest Airbus A400M glitch

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen's visit to Lithuania was going according to plan until her Airbus A400M broke down on the tarmac. The incident is the latest blow to a costly and delayed Airbus project.

German officials on Wednesday launched an investigation into what caused a military Airbus A400M plane to break down on the tarmac during a visit by Germany's defense minister to Lithuania.

Engineers reportedly discovered an oil leak in one of the plane's four engines during a routine maintenance check, as Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen was visiting German NATO troops stationed in Lithuania.

The visit marked von der Leyen's first foreign trip on the aircraft, which Germany's military had only received in December. The plane was intended to showcase the capabilities of Europe's largest defense project. Instead, it delayed von der Leyen by half-an-hour and forced her to fly back on a 50-year-old "Transall" replacement aircraft.

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A series of technical glitches

The breakdown is just the latest incident following years of delays and technical incidents for the A400M.

It remains unclear whether the latest issue revealed a new technical challenge. A spokesman for Germany's air force said engineers were investigating the engine's hydraulic system but declined to provide further details.

Airbus has already written off some 5 billion euros ($5.34 billion) in its program with Germany's Defense Ministry after previous aircraft experienced gearbox problems and suffered fuselage cracks.

An Airbus spokesman said, "We are shocked and deeply regret that the defense minister and her delegation suffered significant travel consequences as a result of the breakdown of an A400M."

It means that just one of Germany's eight A400M planes is currently in service, with three currently in repair, three going through routine inspections and one being refurbished.

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Making its descent

Plane enthusiasts are enthralled as a massive Airbus A380 descends onto Farnborough. The European plane manufacturer has just announced it would halve production of its double-decker superjumbo, to a dozen a year. But CEO Tom Enders expected demand for his "money making machine" to rise again in the next few years.

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Taking off

Private jet, anyone? Those with some spare change in their pockets are sure to find the right plane to suit their needs at Farnborough.

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Sharp maneuvers

The Royal Air Force's aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, escort a Lockheed Martin F-35B to kick off the action at Farnborough. But despite all the excitement up in the clouds, it's rather quiet on the ground - there has been a lack of spectacular order announcements so far.

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Small but mighty

A look inside the cockpit of a Bombardier CS100 passenger plane. The Canadian manufacturer's 110-to-150-seat jets prove that it's not only size that matters. Air Canada, Swiss Airlines and Delta Airlines are on its list of recent buyers.

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Big void

Customers pledged to buy planes, helicopters and drones worth $201 billion (180 billion euros) at the last Farnborough air fair two years ago. Compared to that, this year's order books seem rather empty.

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Problem child

The military transport aircraft A400M is causing Airbus trouble. Certain parts of its exterior are prone to cracking, and now problems with its engine have been flagged as well. Still, Airbus plans to showcase the A400M's advantages at Farnborough.

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New horizons

As countries like China and India grow wealthier, their aircraft demand will rise - or at least that's what the plane industry hopes. So far, it looks like their predictions are coming true. Chinese airlines Donghai and Xiamen have ordered dozens of planes worth $7.4 billion (6.6 billion euros) from Boeing.

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Up close

Farnborough is perfect for aircraft fans who want to get up close and personal with their favorite planes. While business folk romp about the exhibition grounds during the week, the fair opens up to the general public on the weekend.

Europe's largest defense project years behind schedule

Germany's A400M program is years behind schedule, with the federal government's share of the costs having risen from an initial estimate of 8.1 billion euros to 9.6 billion euros.

Germany is the largest customer of A400M planes, having initially agreed to purchase 53 of them from Airbus. The Defense Ministry maintains that it has a good contract with Airbus that allows it to demand compensation for delays and other technical issues.

The A400M was due to completely replace the older "Transall" aircraft by next year. Officials now expect that transition to be completed by 2022 at the latest.

The new aircraft was developed as part of a program for seven European NATO states with an initial estimated cost of 20 billion euros.

Tuesday's episode coincided with reports that Germany is looking to maintain access to more A400M planes through a pooling agreement with several countries, backtracking on initial plans to sell 13 on of the 52 it has agreed to buy.

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dm/sms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)