SEVILLE: After years of delays and huge cost over-runs, Airbus yesterday delivered its first A400M military transport plane, handing over the huge turboprop to France.
The pan-European aircraft maker hopes the official handover ceremony at the Airbus Military plant in Seville, southern Spain, will launch strong sales to air forces worldwide following a difficult birth.
“It is an extremely high performance aircraft and I am quite proud that France is number one for delivery,” French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a handover ceremony also attended by Spain’s Prince Felipe.
Already, though, there are concerns about orders for the plane.
The French minister, who was returning to a military base in Orleans aboard the plane after the ceremony, said France still planned to take 50 of the A400M aircraft, which has propellers more than five metres long.
But the minister, who celebrated the A400M as a “technological feat”, said France would take only 15 planes “right now” in its 2014-2019 supply programme currently being debated in parliament.
Originally, France had agreed to take 35 planes up front, and it will likely have to negotiate the downsized schedule to avoid penalties.
But France’s minister described the change in plane orders as a minor correction with final objectives remaining the same.
Airbus parent Eads has expressed concern that any decision by France to axe orders could lead other nations such as Spain and Germany to do the same, squeezing the entire programme.
It took 10 years to bring the A400M to the skies in one of the European military industry’s most ambitious projects, backed by seven partners: Nato members Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg Spain and Turkey.
The project was dogged by delays and broken budgets as developers struggled with the complex engine and the divergent requirements of client nations.
Finally, four years late and ¤6.2bn ($8.3bn), or 30 percent, over budget, Tom Enders, chief executive of Airbus owner Eads, officially handed over the revolutionary aircraft to France, its first client, though the plane was actually ready August 1.
Designed at the request of European chiefs of staff after the first Gulf War of 1991, which exposed the need for such a plane, the A400M is a multi-task military air lifter.