MADRID (AP) — Spain has withdrawn its permission for test flights of Airbus A400M planes still in production until an investigation determines the cause of a crash last weekend near the southern city of Seville that killed two pilots and two flight test engineers, the defense minister said Tuesday.
Defense Minister Pedro Morenes said all precautions must be taken.
"It's not a good idea for those planes in the production phase and about to do tests to fly without knowing what really happened with the (crashed) plane," he said on Onda Cero radio.
Morenes said the permits were being temporarily removed by Spain's National Institute for Aerospace Technique, which means that planes in the final stages of assembly in Seville will not be able to carry out test flights.
An Airbus statement said it was too early to say how this would affect the delivery schedule for the planes.
"We are working very closely with the military authorities as well as our customers to manage this situation," the statement said.
Spain's air traffic controllers said on Twitter that the plane's pilots had communicated just before the crash that a fault was affecting the flight. Some media outlets also quoted Airbus Seville labor union representative Francisco Figueroa as saying by landing the plane in a field, the pilot apparently avoided crashing it into a shopping mall or nearby factories.
"It appears that the pilot made a maneuver to try to avoid worse things happening in the accident," Morenes said Tuesday.
Morenes said he had no details on the progress of the crash investigation, but called such probes incredibly complicated. He said both human and technological factors would be taken into account but added that the possibility that the pilot maneuvered the plane in the final moments to avoid a more serious accident may provide some clues as to what happened.
The southern Andalusian justice department in Seville said the judge in charge of the crash probe, Ana Rosa Curra, had placed a secrecy order on investigations, meaning no details would be released officially for the time being.
Despite the problems, Airbus said it successfully conducted a test flight Tuesday of a similar model to the one that crashed. The plane flew from Toulouse, France and landed safely at Seville about two hours later, the company said.
The Spanish withdrawal of flight permission only affects A400Ms that are destined for delivery to customers, not Tuesday's test flight, which is a plane that belongs to Airbus itself as one of its five test planes, according an Airbus official who was not authorized to speak publicly because of company protocol.
Fernando Alonso, the head of military aircraft at Airbus Defense and Space, is expected to take part in the test Tuesday as a flight engineer in a symbolic show of confidence in the plane. Alonso took up his post in January, after Airbus dismissed his predecessor following complaints by governments about continued delays in finishing the cargo plane whose rollout went billions over budget and years over deadline.
Four of the five countries that already have A400Ms — Britain, Germany, Malaysia and Turkey — have grounded the plane. France, which has six, says it will only use the aircraft in urgent operations.
Seville is the final assembly point for the A400M — a 20-billion-euro program that saw its first deliveries in 2013. Some 194 aircraft have been ordered by eight countries — including Spain — to replace their aging military transport fleets.
Also Tuesday, authorities were to hold a funeral Mass in Seville for the four people killed in the crash.
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton and Jamey Keaten in Paris contributed to this report.