BERLIN Oct 6 Airbus put a brave face
on plans by France and Germany - the two main buyers of its
troubled A400M military transporter - to operate an extra fleet
of rival U.S. planes, saying it would spur European
The two countries agreed this week to study a joint tactical
airlift pool of Lockheed Martin C-130J aircraft
alongside the delayed A400M, with Germany looking at buying 4-6
U.S. troop planes on top of four ordered by France.
This puts a dent in longstanding plans for a fully European
airlift capability around the A400M, and comes against a
backdrop of tough negotiations with Airbus over delay penalties.
Dirk Hoke, chief executive of Airbus Defence and Space, told
Reuters on Thursday he welcomed the Franco-German proposal as "a
clear sign of the revitalisation of European defence
co-operation" after Britain's vote in June to quit the European
"Therefore, this project of the two defence ministers of
France and Germany is not a critique of the A400M, rather it
reflects that progress on a common European defence," Hoke said.
The A400M, Europe's largest defence project, was seen as a
driving force for defence co-operation when launched in 2003,
but the 20-billion-euro, seven-nation project became mired in
delays and later had to be bailed out.
France opted to buy four C-130Js in part because the A400M
was unable to refuel helicopters for special forces operations
such as hostage rescue, despite being designed to do so.
Hoke said the new initiative would give both countries an
immediate increase in capabilities for national crisis response,
such as in the evacuation of troops. But he said the A400M would
eventually offer superior capabilities to comparable transports.
He said Airbus was making steady progress in increasing the
capabilities of the A400M, and the Germany would receive its
first with a self-defence system this autumn.
He also said Germany and other European countries would have
most of their A400Ms in use by 2021, when the new tactical C-130
airlift capability is due to begin.
Germany's military initially planned to operate only A400M
transport planes once its C-160 Transall is retired in 2021, but
studies later suggested it would need extra planes that could
land on rough terrain more easily than the bulkier A400M.
Hoke insisted that the A400M could land everywhere that a
Boeing C-17 transporter, C-130 or C-160 could.
Airbus has delivered 29 A400Ms - including 9 this year -
since it finally entered service in 2013.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Andrea Shalal; Additional
reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Alexander Smith)