Airbus Military Company (AMC) has rejected any possibility of it using the Antonov An-70 as the basis for a European Future Large Aircraft (FLA).
The timing of the statement during the Berlin air show angered senior Airbus Industrie management, apparently concerned that the rejection of a German-led initiative to use the An-70 would at best be seen as insensitive, if not inflammatory.
An FLA policy meeting on 19 May attended by the seven partner nations was told by AMC of the "-formal termination of its discussion process aimed at investigating the possibility of fulfilling the European Staff Requirement with An-70 based aircraft". Antonov officials were disappointed by the AMC decision.
A European tactical airlifter based around the Ukrainian An-70 is being championed by Volker Rühe, the German defence minister. Rühe wants to use the aircraft as the basis for a German collaborative project with Russia and Ukraine, say sources in Bonn.
Rühe's support for such an approach has proved to be detrimental and has further pushed back the much delayed airlifter programme, according to FLA project sources.
The AMC statement says: "Some nations continue to have varying degrees of interest in receiving an An-70-based proposal, led preferably by a Western prime contractor...it is Airbus Industrie/FLA's understanding that Germany will act as lead nation."
As well as removing any lingering doubt that Airbus Industrie might act as the prime contractor for an An-70 approach to the European Staff Requirement, the policy meeting also decided that AMC requests to harmonise timescales for the submission of its FLA proposals and An-70 studies be accepted.
As well as pushing AMC to consider the An-70, Bonn is also pursuing its own study into the possibility of Antonov providing the airframe basis for its military airlift requirements. The AMC response to the multinational request for proposals (RFP), however, has to be submitted to the European participant nations by the end of January 1999.
AMC officials were concerned that the FLA programme would hang in limbo for at least six months awaiting the An-70 studies completion.
It has succeeded in persuading Germany to run its own An-70 study, in which several other FLA nations will take at least observer status, in parallel with the FLA proposal timescale.
As well as the An-70 study, the seven partner nations are also expected to release a second RFP by the end of June soliciting alternative proposals to meet military airlift requirements. Antonov, Boeing and Lockheed Martin are all likely to respond.