Defence minister Charles Nqakula says his department has not yet “officially been notified by Airbus Military of a three-year delay in the delivery of the A400M Airbus Military transport aircraft.”
He also revealed South Africa has to date paid Airbus just over a third of the R7.4 billion purchase price for eight of the aircraft. The Treasury has so far disbursed R2 889 430 637, with more provided for in the April budget.
Nqakula was responding in writing to a question asked by Democratic Alliance MP Hendrik Schmidt. The MP wanted to know what his department`s response was to the recent media announcements by Airbus and its parent, EADS, that the delivery of the aircraft had been substantially delayed.
The MP also wanted to know what contingency plans the SA Air Force had in place to cope with the delay and what it would do in the event of the cancellation of the contract. The minister said the “SAAF has been investigating various options that would allow [it] to bridge any capability gap”.
A report compiled by the French Senate`s foreign and finance committees noted that European governments could effectively cancel their orders for 180 of the aircraft from April for non-performance on the part of Airbus.
Comments by senior Airbus and EADS officials have implied that the plane-maker cannot viably produce the aircraft under current contractual terms and might have to terminate the programme if it is not restructured.
Air Force chief Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano in November said the A400M was crucial to the SAAF and SANDF`s future strategic airlift needs. He was scheduled to meet Airbus officials for a briefing on project progress in early December, where he meant to convey this message to them. Gagiano has not commented on the outcome of that meeting.
Gagiano last month said the air force would closely watch talks between the European organisation for joint armament cooperation (OCCAR) and Airbus. OCCAR is coordinating the European acquisitions.
“OCCAR and Airbus Military are engaged in discussions to establish the way forward. The RSA will evaluate the position OCCAR (as the acquisition agency of the leading nations) is going to take. Based on this, an option to the best advantage of the Defence Force will be formulated.”
“For Airbus it is important that an acceptable solution to their predicament is found, since their customers have contractual recourse if milestones are not achieved,” the SAAF chief added.
“As for all the nations involved in this program, we are concerned that the envisaged slippage on the program will overtax an already strained air transport capability,” Gagiano says.