Five of the seven European Future Large Airlifter nations gave a commitment to develop and order the Airbus Military Company's A400M at a key committee meeting in the UK at the end of last month.
Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and Turkey made firm guarantees to the programme, with only Germany and the UK remaining on the fringes, say industry sources.
The UK is expected to announce the result of its Future Transport Aircraft competition soon. It is believed it is likely to operate three Boeing C-17 Globemasters in the short term and commit to the A400M, providing the programme moves forward (Flight International, 7-13 March).
The five countries have committed to around 130 aircraft - sufficient to launch the programme - with France taking 50.
Although German and UK orders would take the total to over 200 aircraft, the number is someway short of the 288 A400Ms to which the nations initially agreed. Pricing offered to the seven nations is based on the delivery of 180 aircraft - which will be achieved if Germany orders the same number as France.
Nominally, the UK needs 25 aircraft to replace its remaining Lockheed Martin C-130Ks but UK industry sources are concerned that this leaves the UK with less than 20% of the programme - equivalent to BAE Systems' holding in Airbus Industrie and sufficient to ensure the company retains crucial wing design work.
Contracts could be signed within a year, says an industry source. AMC expects to fly the first A400M 51 months after signature, with deliveries 20 months later.
<LI> Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) - the consortium responsible for international marketing of Antonov An-70 propfans - is negotiating a deal with China. A news agency quotes MTA general director Leonid Terentyev as saying: "Of all potential export customers, we are most advanced in negotiations with China." Russia and Ukraine have ordered the aircraft.
Source: Flight International