Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Efforts to launch the seven-nation Airbus Military Company (AMC) A400M airlifter programme have received a boost following a decision by Germany's parliamentary budget committee to allocate DM10 billion ($4.4 billion) of defence spending to the project.

The figure falls short of the estimated DM16.8 billion that German defence minister Rudolf Scharping requires to commit the country to taking its full quota of 73 aircraft, threatening to further complicate delicate negotiations over workshare.

Despite the shortfall, industry sources say the money is sufficient to ensure that Germany can sign up to the project and that a minimum of 180 A400Ms can be purchased by the seven nations, clearing the way for a launch decision by the end of the first half of 2001. Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, the UK and Turkey have previously announced a combined requirement for up to 225 aircraft for delivery from 2007 and are in contract negotiations with AMC.

The sources say Scharping will attempt to preserve Germany's projected one-third industrial workshare in the A400M by assuring the other partners that additional funding for the country's full 73-aircraft offtake will eventually be made available.

That fact that Germany failed to honour previous procurement pledges relating to the Panavia Tornado, Eurocopter Tiger and Eurofighter programmes means that it would be likely to face stiff contractual penalties for reducing its A400Mpurchase after programme launch. The sources add that such penalty clauses may prompt the Berlin parliament to force a reduction in order numbers prior to contract signature.

The German MoD says that though it has not taken a "final decision" to procure the A400M the funding decision should be seen as a "very clear signal" that it intends to commit to buying the A400M.

Germany, meanwhile, as the likely largest single customer for the aircraft, is understood to have raised concerns over plans to locate the A400M programme office in Toulouse, France, where it will be managed by new pan-European defence procurement agency OCCAR. Industry sources say the A400M programme director will be a German national.

Source: Flight International