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Airbus says military jet A400M first flight in summer

European planemaker Airbus has won nearly 200 orders for its A400M military transport plane, which will make its long-awaited maiden flight this summer with no further delays, the firm’s chief said on Wednesday.

In January, Airbus, owned by European aerospace group EADS, said the A400M, a €20 billion ($29.5 billion) project, that has spanned two decades due to funding disputes, will be delayed for 6-12 months due to engine problems. “We intend to fly the aircraft in summer this year,” CEO Tom Enders told reporters at a press conference at the Singapore Airshow. “We are in the time frame that we have predicted, that is, up to one year,” Enders said when asked about further delays to the A400M project. He said Airbus expects to receive another 200 orders for the plane.

The A400M is designed to provide Europe with a large transport plane that can fly troops and equipment into conflict zones or assist in humanitarian missions. Germany, France, Spain and Britain are lined up as its biggest customers. The A400M so far has 192 orders including 180 from the seven launch nations -- Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Turkey, Belgium and Luxembourg -- as well as eight from South Africa and four from Malaysia.

Enders said Airbus has not received any cancellations for the A400M, and that the engine for the aircraft would be tested in April. The aircraft could fly with engines from France’s Safran and Britain’s Rolls-Royce. The development of the A400M, whose four turboprop engines are among the largest ever built, was being closely watched by the industry partly because the technology used is expected to feed into advances in Airbus airliners. The A400M’s main rivals are the Lockheed Martin C130J Hercules and the larger C-17 Globemaster from Boeing, whose production the US company is expected to halt around the end of 2009.

Separately, Enders said Airbus had submitted a “very competitive” offer for a $40 billion deal with the US Pentagon for a new generation of jet-refueling tankers. EADS has teamed up with US defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp to vie for the contract against Chicago-based Boeing.

A winner-takes-all award is expected to be announced at the end of this month, a US military official has said. “We made a very competitive offer, we get strong support from political constituencies, especially in the south of the US,” Enders said, adding it was significant for Airbus to compete against Boeing for a Pentagon deal. “For us, this is a win in any case because who would have thought, go back five years, that we could compete with Boeing on their home turf,” he said. (Reuters)