Airbus Military has given the green light to launch series production of its A400M "Grizzly" airlifter.

Speaking on 9 March at parent company EADS's 2010 results presentation, chief executive Louis Gallois confirmed that the controversial aircraft - which has been dogged by delays and political fighting over funding - will finally start rolling off the production line later this year.

Gallois says: "I'm pleased to inform you that Airbus Military has given clearance for the first series aircraft."

Airbus Military chief executive Domingo Ureña adds: "The industrial launch is a very important milestone for the programme. It is also excellent news for the suppliers and workforce who depend on the programme and who can now look forward to producing the A400M in the years ahead."

In addition, Cédric Gautier, currently president and chief executive of EADS Sogerma, will take over the lead on the programme. He will be responsible for ensuring the A400M's certification, delivery and entry into service with its launch customer, the French air force.

Airbus Military has 174 orders for the aircraft from eight customers, with service entry due in late 2012 or early 2013.

Guatier replaces the outgoing Rafael Tentor, who from 1 April will become head of Airbus Military aircraft programmes, covering the light and medium C-212, CN-235 and C-295 as well as the A330MRTT and all other conversions.

The airlifter was a major drain on Airbus Military's financial performance in 2009, with it largely responsible for an EBIT loss of €1.75 billion ($2.43 billion) that year. However, the aircraft has achieved a number of programme milestones over the last 12 months, most recently the completion of simulated flight cycle testing.

This was achieved on a full-scale airframe to a level to achieve civil type certification by the European Aviation Safety Agency. The test specimen at Airbus's Dresden plant, known as MSN5001, has undergone 1,665 cycles, about five times the maximum number of flights expected to be recorded annually by each in-service A400M.

By mid-2012, 25,000 simulated flights will have been performed - equating to 2.5 times the A400M's design-life.

The improved programme performance saw the division raise EBIT to €21 million last year on revenue of €2.6 billion.

Gallois indicates that he believes there will be no further issues surrounding the funding of the aircraft from any of the partner nations. EADS has achieved a "significant de-risking" of the programme over the last 12 months, he adds.

Source: Flight International