South Africa signs for A400M transports

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Airbus Military has secured its first export customer for the A400M transport, with South African defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota having last week signed a partnering agreement that will lead to the delivery of at least eight aircraft to the country's air force from 2010.

Believed to be valued at around €800 million ($1.03 billion), the agreement includes industrial offsets worth at least €400 million, which Airbus Military says will provide South African companies with "sustainable opportunities for export-oriented industrial activity over the next 30-50 years". South Africa's Ministry of National Defence has stopped short of confirming its exact requirement, but this is expected to total a purchase of eight to 14 aircraft.

The 28 April deal expands the A400M project outside Europe and will boost Airbus Military's order book to 188-194 aircraft. Malaysia could also sign a deal for eight aircraft this year, say industry sources, in a move that would expand the programme to total nine nations. The first of five A400M flight-test aircraft will make its debut in early 2008, with deliveries to France and Turkey to start in early 2009.

CRAIG HOYLE/LONDON