FARNBOROUGH: Gallois confident of US interest in A400M

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EADS says unprecedented levels of interest in the Airbus Military A400M by the US military community here at the show raises the likelihood of a breakthrough deal in the USA.

Speaking at an EADS media seminar on the eve of the show, Sean O'Keefe, chief executive of EADS North America, said Pentagon chiefs are "very attracted to the versatility" of the European airlifter, which is making its Farnborough debut.

"There is an undeniable gap in airlift capacity [in the USA] from the middle of this decade, which happens to coincide with when A400M production rates accelerate," he says.

a400m lands at farnborough 2010, apg photography
 © APG Photography

"The number of US defence officials who have requested to see the A400M at Farnborough is at record levels."

However, before EADS looks at exports, it must focus on its domestic market, where a deal to save the long-delayed programme was agreed in March between Airbus Military and its partner goverments, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Turkey and the UK.

Although final details of the refinancing package have to be agreed, EADS chief executive Louis Gallois says the agreement is secure in principle, despite the spending squeeze in most of these countries, and he expects a final contract - originally set for July - by "fall".

"We are in a new climate with budget constraints but we are in intense negotiations within the frame of the agreement settled in March. Nobody is saying to us they will pull out or they will cut in half their order, even if I read this in the newspapers," he says.

Airbus Military's third A400M development aircraft made its first flight on 9 July from the manufacturer's San Pablo final assembly site near Seville, Spain. MSN003's debut pushed the programme through 100 test flights and 400 flight hours since December.

Prior to its arrival at Farnborough, test aircraft MSN001 visited the Royal Air Force's Brize Norton air base in Oxfordshire, its future UK home, and the weekend's Royal International Air Tattoo.

Meanwhile, Gallois is confident the KC-X contest between Boeing and EADS to supply a new fleet of tankers for the US Air Force will be "fair". A winner is due to be announced towards the end of the year, after new bids were submitted by both rivals this month.

"We have been very impressed," says Gallois. "The Pentagon is sticking to fair and professional processes."

EADS is targeting $10 billion in US revenues by 2020, up from $1.2 billion today. However, while Gallois says winning the tanker contest would "enhance" the chances of achieving that goal, he believes "we could do it without KC-X".