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11 Oct 02. French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie Friday said that Europe’s EUR18bn A400M military transport aircraft program could fly even if Germany was to cut its order to 55 from 73 planes.

A solution to make up for Germany’s potentially smaller order and prevent a hike in the unit price of the aircraft could come from Italy, which has expressed interest in buying some A400M planes at a later stage, Alliot-Marie told reporters at a press conference.

Europe’s largest collective defense procurement program has been grounded for months because Germany has been unable to earmark the roughly EUR10bn required to order the 73 aircraft it wants. In December, eight European countries signed a provisional contract with Airbus Military, a unit of European aircraft maker Airbus , to acquire 196 A400M planes.

Six nations – the U.K., France, Spain, Belgium, Turkey and Luxembourg – have already allocated sufficient funding for their orders. But Portugal has expressed reservations on its order for three aircraft, while Germany has said it might acquire fewer planes to meet budget constraints.

Alliot-Marie said she had no precise information on Germany’s plans, but added that she was hearing “echoes from non-political circles” suggesting Berlin might cut its order to between 55 and 65 from 73 planes. The French Defense Minister said that during recent contacts with Italian authorities, Rome has expressed interest in buying some A400M planes in 2006 or 2007. In June 2001, Italy pulled out of the joint program after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the Italian air force didn’t need the 16 A400M aircraft ordered by a previous government.

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