A400M contract signing likely to be delayed - again
12 November 2001
The formal contract signing for the development of the A400M transport aircraft, due to take place on 16 November is likely to be delayed yet again. Th main cause for delay appears to be the indecision of the Italian Government about its participation in the project.
Last month the Italian Defence Minister Antonio Martino said "This aircraft will not be of use to military aviation," and acknowledged that the government's decision would "displease" several of Italy's European partners.
Immediately the Italian Foreign Minister, Renato Ruggiero, countered that Italy's participation in the A400M was essential if Italy was to be considered for "...future European defence projects, which will become an important chapter."
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was to have tried to settle the matter during a Cabinet meeting last Thursday, but the matter was not discussed and no new date has been set for a resolution.
The German Co-Chairman of EADS, Rainer Hertrich, told reporters last week that Italy could join later in building the A400M plane, but admitted that it would be "...painful if Italy did not participate."
However, the lack of enthusiasm shown by the Italians is not the only hurdle to be overcome. The German government, which has said it needs 73 of the aircraft, does not appear to have money in its budget to pay for the development. It has said it wishes to pay on delivery, rather than allocating funds as development requires them, the method agreed by the other purchasers and Airbus.
Given the funding uncertainties and the fact that the RAF and the French Air Force both need to replace their ageing transport fleet sooner rather than later, any delay in committing to the A400M risks France and the UK at least looking elsewhere for their needs. The RAF has already leased four C-17 Globemaster IIIs from Boeing for its strategic requirements and is said to be delighted with their performance
Designed to replace the US-made C-130 Hercules and the C-160 Transall aircraft still in service in a number of European countries, the A400M project was held up as an example of European trans-national co-operation in armaments production, being developed in accordance with commercial best practice.
Eight countries said they would order 196 of the planes, with deliveries expected to begin before 2007. Germany has ordered 73, France 50, Spain 27, Britain 25, Turkey 10, Belgium 7, Portugal 3 and Luxembourg 1.
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