The future of the FLA programme was thrown into turmoil when the French defence ministry revealed that it had no intention to provide any development funding. French industry has since been in prolonged negotiations with the defence ministry to try to find an acceptable solution. The French decision also meant that the unveiling of Airbus Military Company, intended for the 1996 Farnborough air show, was put on hold until the programme's future becomes clear. Despite the UK's decision to procure the Lockheed Martin C-130J, it indicated that it will rejoin the FLA programme, contingent on certain issues being addressed. One of these was that the project was placed on a commercial footing. It is now to be run under the auspices of Airbus Industrie at Toulouse.

The collaborative European programme was being driven by France and Germany. The configuration has undergone several revisions. It is now seen as a four-turboprop, T-tail, high-wing aircraft, with tail-ramp loading. A tanker variant would have two or three hose/drogue units and/or a flying boom. The study envisages a maximum take-off weight of 105,000kg, maximum payload 25,000kg and unrefuelled range of 5,560km. Typical operating speed will be Mach 0.72 and initial cruise altitude is to be 31,000ft. The aircraft will be able to be operated from semi-prepared strips. Crew will be two pilots and a load master.

Six independent European Programme Group nations (France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey) are participating, with government support, while the UK's BAe is privately funding involvement in the feasibility-study phase. Belgium withdrew from the project in mid-1993. Studies have been carried out to establish a European Staff Target, which has been approved by the participating countries. Companies making up Euroflag, which was formed in July 1991, are Aerospatiale of France, Alenia of Italy, BAe of the UK, CASA of Spain, DASA Airbus of Germany and Flabel of Belgium, SONACA and SABCA, OGMA/ Portugal and Tusas of Turkey are also involved.

The European nations have indicated a commitment to take 280-300 aircraft although this figure has to be treated with considerable care.

Source: Flight International