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A400M TO GO AHEAD

29 Nov 02. France and Germany said on Friday Europe’s long-delayed A400M military transport plane project would go ahead, with Paris saying it would launch with an initial total order of 180 planes.

That would be short of original plans for a total 196 units, but viewed as just enough to launch the eight-nation project, a cornerstone of efforts to build a common European defence force. Berlin, whose involvement is crucial for the project to be economically viable, said it would announce next week how many of the planes it would buy.

“The project must go ahead,” a German Defence Ministry spokesman said by telephone. Germany has previously warned a budget squeeze meant it would review its initial plans to buy 73 of the planes, the largest order.

The A400M is due to be built by Airbus Military, a specially-created venture led by Airbus SAS, which in turn is 80 percent owned by European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. NV (Paris:EAD.PA – News; XETRA:EAD.DE – News) and 20 percent by Britain’s BAE Systems Plc (London:BA.L – News).

French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told parliament late on Thursday Germany had confirmed it would participate to the extent that would allow the project to go ahead.

“Reconfirmed by Germany, the A400M programme will finally be maintained in accordance with the initial order — namely 180 units,” she told parliament according to a copy of her speech posted on the National Assembly Web site.

Alliot-Marie did not say how much of the total order would go to Germany, France or other partners in the project. France has committed to buying 50 planes. A French Defence Ministry spokesman said he did not have a breakdown of the total order. European powers hope the A400M will allow them to send troops quickly into trouble spots around the world without relying on U.S.-built transporters.

So far Germany has only budgeted for 40 planes out of the original 73 figure. But Defence Minister Peter Struck said this month he did not assume Berlin would stick to only those 40.Portugal’s new centre-right government is also reviewing an earlier commitment to buy three planes.

Comment: It looks as if A400M will take to the air followed by Meteor where the Germans are expected to announce a go-ahead contrary to many observers thoughts. The possibility of an order for 600 extra AMRAAM for the RAF to be placed at the end of the year has been mooted which may signal a longer than expected development phase for Meteor.

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