In 2001 Spain ordered 27 aircraft, of which 10 will be for export

Spain will receive three more A400M and does not know what to do with another ten that it ordered

The Airbus A400M Atlas is proving to be an excellent military transport aircraft, but Spain has a problem with the ones it ordered.

The exhibition of a Spanish Airbus A400M Atlas that has stunned the British public
The images of the Spanish evacuation of Sudan with four Air Force planes

As one of the countries that participates in the Airbus consortium, manufacturer of this model, Spain was one of the countries that was most involved in the manufacture of the A400M. The Spanish contribution to the project was announced in June 2001 by the government of José María Aznar at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, stating that "the Minister of Defense is authorized to initiate the necessary actions for the acquisition of 27 A400M transport aircraft". On December 14 of that year, the Council of Ministers approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the Development, Production and Initial Support of the A-400 Program, confirming the initial contribution announced by Spain of 3,453 million euros.

The first A400M delivered to the Spanish Air Force upon its arrival at the Zaragoza Air Base on June 7, 2016 (Photo: Ejército del Aire/AirbusDS).

On June 6, 2003, after Germany and Turkey reduced the A400M fleets they had initially committed to purchase and after Italy and Portugal abandoned the programme, Aznar's government increased by one year the payment forecast for the 27 A400M (from 2020 to 2021), but without modifying the contribution of Spain. However, the increase in the cost of the project led to increases in the Spanish contribution in 2009 (4,443 million) and 2010 (5,493 million).

The Spanish Air Force already has 14 A400M operational. In addition to the other three that it will receive, there are another 10 more pending delivery, initially dedicated to export, but still without buyers (Photo: Ejército del Aire/AirbusDS).

In August 2013, due to the economic crisis, it was announced that Spain would ultimately be left with only 14 of the 27 A400M ordered from Airbus, devoting the other 13 to export. Then began the not easy challenge of finding buyers for those planes, at a time when another country also made the same decision: Germany, which was initially going to buy 60 and finally reduced its fleet to 53 it will only operate 40 and also has another 13 planes pending sale.

An A400M from the 31st Wing of the Spanish Air Force. These aircraft have demonstrated their capability in evacuating from Afghanistan and Sudan and in moving military aid to Poland bound for Ukraine (Photo: Ejército del Aire).

In October 2017, the Spanish Ministry of Defense announced: "Deliveries of the 27 aircraft requested by Spain will begin, according to the current forecast contained in the contract, in 2016 and will end in 2022. However, the postponement of 13 aircraft between 2025 and 2030 and the change of configuration of the first 14 aircraft have been formalized (to be delivered between 2016 and 2022)."

The delay in the delivery of those 13 remaining aircraft gave Spain a certain margin to continue looking for buyers for them, but they did not appear. In addition, in 2016, the Spanish government signed an agreement with the aeronautical company according to which Spain would have to pay a penalty of 243 million to Airbus if it cancels the remaining 13 A400M or if it fails to resell them.

One of the Spanish Air Force A400M equipped with gondolas for in-flight refueling (Photo: Ejército del Aire).

In the midst of this very complicated situation, on March 13, 2023 Reuters published that Spain could cancel the purchase of the remaining 13 A400M. The government of Pedro Sánchez and Airbus declined to comment. Finally, yesterday the Minister of Defense of Spain, Margarita Robles, announced that the Spanish Air Force will receive three more A400Ms from the batch of 13 planned for export. That reduces the planes that Spain has to resell to a total of 10.

A Spanish Air Force A400M undergoing certification tests to transport an NH-90 Lobo helicopter. Before the acquisition of the A400M, Spain lacked military transport aircraft with this capability (Photo: Ejército del Aire).

The current international situation , created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China's threats to Taiwan, is leading many countries to increase their defense spending. This could facilitate the sale of those remaining 10 A400M ordered by Spain. In any case, the increase in the costs of the program does not help the sales of these aircraft. At the moment, not even Airbus itself has received new orders, beyond those that are pending: Indonesia and Kazakhstan, which have purchased two aircraft each.


Main photo: Ejército del Aire.

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