EADS expects the delay-hit A400 military transport to make its first flight in late 2009 or in the early weeks of 2010, and says the programme could proceed even if the UK were to withdraw.
Speaking at the company's pre-show media seminar, chief executive Louis Gallois hailed as "good news" the joint decision of France and Germany to delay a final decision by six months from the end of June, and said a successful conclusion of detailed negotiations "could coincide with the first flight", which he foresaw either before the end of this year or "weeks" into next year.
Gallios indicates that "intense" discussions with the client nations and their representative agency OCCAR are ongoing, with an agreed three-month standstill period due to finish at the end of this month. The discussions cover technical matters, the delivery schedule, delivery standards and commercial matters, including the nature of the contract, which Gallois says is "not adapted to a military programme".
While Germany, France and Spain have expressed their commitment to the programme, the UK has yet to show its hand.
Gallois said that he did not know if the UK intended to cancel aircraft from its 25-unit order, but added that the nation was participating in discussions and had set out "specific requirements" that EADS was seeking to accommodate.
While EADS would be "hurt" if the UK were to cancel its orders, it would not kill the contract, says Gallois, although he adds that he wants to have the UK aboard as the nation is "the reference in defence equipment" and accounts for an important part of the aircraft's manufacturing base.
Gallois expects the UK's new secretary of defence Bob Ainsworth to be represented at a critical meeting of European defence ministers scheduled for later this month.
EADS spends around €100 million ($140 million) a month on the A400M programme, on which it employs 6,000 people. It has made a provision of €2.3 billion to cover delays to the programme. Gallois says he does not know if that amount could be recovered on the 180 aircraft included in the initial contract, but he expects "at least the same number of airplanes" to be sold on the export market.
"Even the USA could be interested," he claims. He expressed doubts as to whether customers seeking Lockheed Martin C-130s as a bridging solution to the A400M could get them in time.
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Source: Flight Daily News