French air force chief backs A400M after Germany row

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 19, 2017 3:01 AM

By Cyril Altmeyer

PARIS (Reuters) - France's air force defended the troubled Airbus A400M military airlifter on Monday, expressing a "positive outlook" for Europe's new army plane despite German protests over missing defensive capabilities.

The reassurance from top air force general Andre Lanata offers some respite to manufacturer Airbus after months of renewed debate over the delayed plane.

The A400M - ordered by Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey - has been hit by engine gearbox problems and delays in fitting parachuting capacity and advanced defenses.

A confidential report by the German defense ministry warned recently that such problems as well as contract disputes could impair the full operational use of the transporter.

But speaking to journalists to mark the start of the June 19-25 air show at Le Bourget, near Paris, Lanata said he believed Airbus was getting to grips with the problems.

"I believe that all that is now mainly behind us," he told the AJPAE media association.

Earlier this year, Airbus took a new writedown of 1.2 billion euros against losses on the A400M, and urged the seven NATO buyers to limit its exposure to heavy fines and payment delays caused by new technical snags and delays.

France currently has 11 A400M planes, of which six are fully operational - a tally which Lanata called "very satisfactory", even though not all of them yet have the specifications originally envisaged in Europe's largest defense contract.

The French army is due to get another 15 A400M planes by 2019, and French President Emmanuel Macron was due to arrive at the Paris Airshow on Monday on board an A400M in a further show of support for the model.

Lanata said that while there were technical issues that needed to be resolved, France remained fully behind the A400M.

"It is very important that optimism and support shown by France is not hampered by any industrial problems, given how tough the Germans have been on this matter," added another French army official, asking not to be named.

(Reporting by Cyril Altmeyer; Writing by Tim Hepher and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Mark Potter)