Defense ministers from the seven A400M partner nations are heading for Seville next week for a crucial meeting with the EADS and Airbus leadership. French Defense Minister Herve Morin urged the airframer to be “transparent and precise” about the extent of delays to the troubled European airlifter.
Meanwhile, at a meeting here in Paris last Thursday, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that a final decision on whether or how to proceed with the troubled European airlifter program would be delayed a further six months.
Speaking to journalists here last Saturday, EADS CEO Louis Gallois expressed confidence that the aircraft would fly “around the end of the year.” By failing to achieve that milestone by April 1, Airbus Military is technically in default of the contract, and liable for its cancellation and the return of the ?5.7 billion already provided by the governments in advance payments.
Gallois said that Airbus had already spent that money, and is now spending a further ?100 million each month on the program. “We have completely reorganized the program...and discussions are constructive on technical matters, delivery schedule, and the contract. We are proposing some amendments,” he said.
Referring to recent reports that the UK was ready to pull out of the program, Gallois said that the British had some specific requests. “We will see if we can accommodate them,” he said.
The UK had just appointed a new defense secretary, Bob Ainsworth, who will attend the meeting next week. An informed source told AIN that, in fact, the UK is still anxious to proceed with the acquisition.
Gallois noted that Spain had already expressed its continued support for the program. Now, he added, “We need at least France and Germany to agree.” Those two countries account for 110 of the 180 aircraft ordered by the partner nations.