Douglas Barrie/LONDON

AIRBUS INDUSTRIE has shelved plans to unveil the Airbus Military Company (AMC) in the wake of the French Government's decision not to fund development of the collaborative European Future Large Aircraft (FLA) project.

Airbus had been intending to formally set up its military-aircraft arm in the second quarter of 1996, principally to manage the development and production of the FLA. Sources now say that, "...there is no point in unveiling AMC until we know how the French will go". Airbus was unable to comment on the position of the AMC.

The UK Government, which was on the brink of formally rejoining the programme following its decision to buy the European aircraft as well Lockheed Martin C-130Js in 1995, has reacted with concern to the French decision. "We're looking for clarification. We will need to consider our position," says the Ministry of Defence. Senior UK and French defence officials met on 1 March, to discuss several programmes including, the FLA.

The French defence minister Charles Millon has told senior French industry chiefs that he wants the FLA industrial and national partners to renegotiate the programme. France, Germany and Italy are the lead nations in a pan-European project to build the turboprop transport.

Exactly what Millon wants to "renegotiate" remains unclear. One senior FLA official admits: "We're not quite sure what he's getting at."

If, as seems certain, Millon wants to see costs cut, this will present Airbus with a problem. "We thought we'd got the figures about right," says the official.

FLA project sources optimistically claim that if the French position can be resolved satisfactorily within the next three months then the pre-development timetable can still be met.

The chaos in the FLA camp is also likely to encourage Lockheed Martin to rekindle attempts to turn the FLA project into a C-141 Starlifter replacement. US sources suggest that Lockheed Martin will be looking to revisit Airbus in Toulouse.

Senior Lockheed Martin officials visited Toulouse in late 1995 to discuss a collaborative programme to develop a C-141 replacement. The turboprop FLA is a direct competitor to the C-130J.

See New Analysis, P22.

Source: Flight International