Douglas Barrie/LONDON

THE FATE OF the European Future Large Aircraft (FLA) programme will be determined shortly, with a final French decision on a funding compromise due to be made in the middle of June.

French defence minister Charles Millon and Aerospatiale chairman Louis Gallois are understood to have held discussions at the end of May to try to patch together a last-minute solution. The French Government plunged the FLA programme into turmoil when it failed to provide any development funding for the project within its latest draft defence budget.

Industry sources within the programme say that it is essential that the situation be resolved by the summer recess, in part because any further delay would endanger the FLA's ability to meet a Royal Air Force transport requirement in the year 2004.

"There is concern over the UK timescale. The RAF wants a second tranche of replacement transports in 2003," says the source.

The source also admits that, within senior echelons of the RAF, there are those who would like to exploit the doubt surrounding the FLA either to re-examine the aircraft's configuration or to look at larger aircraft. McDonnell Douglas has recently been marketing its C-17 Globemaster III in Europe.

The talks between Millon and Gallois are understood to have focused on trying to find a way around the funding hurdle which is threatening the programme. Some Fr650 million ($125 million) is pencilled in from 2002 as initial purchase funding.

Millon says that he would like to purchase the FLA, but that it must be affordable. Programme officials say that they are "-trying to take the gold plating out of FLA", to bring the costs within striking distance of those of the Lockheed Martin C-130J.

What the FLA industrial partners are now proposing is a single development firm, fixed-price, deal, with development to begin in late 1997 or early 1998.

Source: Flight International