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Spain and France to Support troubled A400M Plane

Fri 15th Jan 2010

The defense ministers of France and Spain emphasized their support for the A400M military transport plane as the seven partner nations held closed-door talks Thursday to discuss ways of bailing out the vastly over-budget program.

The government envoys were meeting in London to discuss funding in a standoff with Airbus, which has said the troubled program is draining money and valuable resources better used elsewhere. On Tuesday, top executives at Airbus and its parent company EADS urged governments to resolve the issue by the end of January. It is far from clear whether such a deadline can be met.

Germany has been especially reticent about plowing any more funds into the plane, which is now four years behind schedule and more than 5 billion euros over budget, officials say. Britain almost pulled out last year, before renewing its support.

Defense Minister Carmen Chacon of Spain, where large-scale assembly is planned, said Thursday her country considers the A400M "essential to our defense."

The A400M, a four-engine turboprop, is seen as inhabiting an important niche market between the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, which carries only half the payload, and Boeing's C-17 Globemaster III, which is larger, costlier, and less tactically versatile.

"We see a bright future for this Airbus especially in view of its competitive qualities," Chacon said in Brussels. "Let's build on the success of this Airbus."

But Chacon declined to comment about how the additional funds could be distributed between Airbus and the governments, who have different priorities.

The A400M had its maiden flight last month. The program was launched six years ago with an order for 180 airplanes from seven governments - Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey.

In Paris, French Defense Minister Herve Morin said the plane amounted to a bet on Europe's defense credibility and insisted cost overruns must be split between the plane maker and the countries.

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