First Airbus A400 test flight set for Friday

9th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

The first test flight for the A400M military transport plane is seen as an important step in the problem-ridden project.

Paris – The long-delayed Airbus A400M military transport plane will make its first test flight in southern Spain on Friday,  confirmed the European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) company.

"Take-off is scheduled for 10:00 am (1100 GMT)" in Seville, an EADS spokesman told AFP on Wednesday.

The programme has been beset by problems.

When the EUR-20-billion A400M project began, it was hoped that a first test flight would be held in 2008 and that air forces would have had the plane in service by the end of this year.

The A400M was to replace ageing military cargo carriers in several European air forces but its development has been dogged by a series of serious technical problems, in particular delays in building its massive turbo-prop engines.

Some governments have begun to tire of waiting for Airbus to resolve the issues, and French and German officials have given the firm until the end of the year to prove that the project remains viable.

The delays have cost millions and forced Airbus to renegotiate its contracts with several customers. South Africa has dropped its order entirely and Britain has mulled switching its business to US manufacturers.

Two pilots from Britain and Spain and four French engineers will take part in the maiden flight that is set to last for up to three hours. A successful first flight would bring a much-needed dose of good news for the programme.

"This first flight, even if it does not solve all the problems weighing on this program, will nevertheless be a major step forward," said an analysis by CM-CIC investment group earlier this week.

Airbus launched the A400M programme in 2003 with a 20-billion-euro contract with seven countries – Germany, Spain, France, Britain, Turkey, Belgium and Luxembourg.

The seven countries have ordered 180 planes between them, in most cases to replace ageing Transall and C130 Hercules transports.

These clients and EADS are now negotiating a new agreement on a delivery date, the characteristics of the aircraft and its price.

The talks are crucial for EADS, which has already put aside EUR 2.4 billion in provisions against losses on the A400M project and has not excluded new charges.

EADS and its clients had given themselves until the end of the year to find common ground, but the negotiations were slowed down by elections in Germany -- the top client with 60 aircraft orders -- and could drag into next year.

Airbus is the main subsidiary of EADS.

AFP / Expatica

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