France is expected to indicate at next week’s Paris air show that it backs the Airbus A400M – formerly known as the Future Large Aircraft – as the solution to Europe’s military transport needs.
Airbus hopes the UK will opt for the A400M soon after and that this will force Germany to abandon backing for the Antonov AN-70.
The transport procurement saga, and the future of the Airbus bid, are entering a critical phase. Seven countries – the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Turkey – are assessing bids for an aircraft to replace fleets based on the ageing C-130 Hercules.
Four countries – the UK, France, Belgium and Spain – are considering competitive bids from the latest version of the Hercules, the C-130J, and the larger C-17. A different subgroup of four has had bids from Antonov.
Aerospatiale UK managing director Paul Busquet de Caumont said: `The French government is very keen on the A400M.’ He said that the Antonov was seen as `very risky’ and would have to be ordered on a cost-plus basis, not as a proper commercial programme.
France had not stated its preference between the European and US solutions, `but we hope to obtain it during the air show’.
A consensus on the preferred solution is expected in July. Airbus has been warned to expect `intensive contractual negotiations’ in August, said British Aerospace Airbus military adviser Brian Poulton.
Airbus executives say the A400M is the only one of the contenders which meets all the requirements of the seven governments. It outperforms both the C-130J and C-17 in important respects.
The main stumbling block is that the others are already flying, while Airbus would need funding to develop the A400M.
Airbus has set up a subsidiary, Airbus Military, and will manage the development `under Airbus commercial management principles’ as if it were a civil airliner.
* Airbus is expected to announce details of a multi-million pound order for 57 aircraft at the Paris air show. The sale will represent more than a third of Airbus’s sales this year. British Aerospace, as a 20% stakeholder in the Airbus consortium, will build the wings for the airliners.
* News Analysis, p12