Spain, Turkey vows to keep A400M going

Two North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) nations say they are determined to keep the troubled Airbus A400M Loadmaster military transport aircraft programme alive and see it through to fruition. 
The defence ministers of A400M customers Turkey and Spain say the seven NATO partners who have ordered 180 of the transports will hold talks every two weeks to bring Europe’s top military programme back on track.
Turkish defence minister Vecdi Gonul told Reuters after a NATO summit over the weekend that Ankara would not cancel orders for the A400M, echoing comments by his Spanish counterpart and contrasting with recent British and German threats to axe the project.
He says nations were in the “evaluation stage” as part of their efforts to rescue the project.
Spanish defence minister Carme Chacon rejected suggestions, raised by Germany last week that the programme could fail. “We are working very hard on a consensus. We have asked for 2 months or more to have a new consensus on a redefinition of the programme,” she said.
“We are prepared for everything in order to be able to save the programme. So that is what we are fighting for.” In addition to ordering 27 of the aircraft, Spain is also host to the final assembly line of what is billed a €20 billion programme. 
Order book
The wikipedia reflects the A400M order book as follows:
Order date
27 May 2003
27 May 2003
27 May 2003
United Kingdom
27 May 2003
27 May 2003
27 May 2003
27 May 2003
South Africa
15 December 2004
8 December 2005
Defence ministers from the seven NATO countries last month agreed a three-month moratorium to decide what to do about the A400M, whose delivery delays of three to four years have left gaps in urgently needed airlift capacity in Afghanistan.
“We decided at our last meeting that we are going to have a video conference every 15 days to discuss the last stages and now we are in the evaluation stage,” Gonul added.
South African Air Force chief Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano says SA is closely following the European deliberations but will consider the programme as continuing until formally informed otherwise by the manufacturer.
The delays threaten billions of euros in penalties for Airbus parent EADS, which wants to negotiate a new contract. Both Airbus and EADS have said the aircraft cannot
Gonul said nations were discussing the period of any penalty payments with EADS, not just their size.
“We are discussing the penalty period and how can we solve all the problems,” he said.
Despite the moratorium both Britain and Germany have said they might cancel all or part of their order. Asked whether Spain would follow suit, Chacon said, “We maintain everything we have in the programme.”
German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung last Tuesday said the nations that ordered the plane were entitled to cancel it and that all of them agreed that abandoning the project was a “realistic possibility” of this happening.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders made similar comments last month saying the manufacturer could not build the A400M “under the current conditions” and that it would be better to make a painful break than stretch out the agony.
Throwing down the gauntlet
Airbus parent EADS, meanwhile yesterday threw down the gauntlet to Britain, saying it could go ahead and build its troubled A400M troop transporter even if the UK pulled out.
“I am convinced that this program is indispensable to European defence and industry,” EADS CE Louis Gallois told a defence conference.
Asked what would happen if Britain, which placed 25 of the original 180 seven-nation orders, scrapped the project, Gallois said this would be a blow, but hoped it would not happen.
British jobs are involved in the project, as well as in plants in Wales that make the wings for all of Airbus’ civil passenger jets.
“It would undeniably be a serious blow to the program but it would not be a signal to stop it,” Gallois said.
“We have very significant industrial capacities in Britain, which are crying out to be used. The British have a technology potential which is useful for the program.”
Gallois said Britain’s order was important for the A400M business plan and “no effort would be spared” to keep it.
Airbus has blamed engine makers for the delays – a charge they deny – but says it is resolving the problems. “We will build this plane. There is no show-stopper,” Gallois said.
Changing horses
Reuters adds EADS is still recovering from a crisis over costly delays to its civil Airbus A380 superjumbo in 2006, caused by poor co-operation between its factories, which led to job cuts and accelerated the switch to a less divisive corporate structure.
EADS faces new boardroom uncertainty after its Non-Executive Chairman, Germany’s Ruediger Grube, said Tuesday he would step down to run Germany’s railways.
Grube was nominated by Germany last week to resolve a staff scandal at Deutsche Bahn, but there were red faces when it was revealed on the same day that Airbus had also spied on workers.
“I am sad because we were formidable partners,” Gallois said. He pledged Grube’s departure would not reopen the kind of Franco-German in-fighting that plagued EADS in its early years.
Gallois said German shareholder Daimler would nominate a replacement quickly. Daimler representatives on the board include its own Finance Director, Bodo Uebber, whom some industry sources see as a frontrunner.
Gallois also said the global economic crisis, which has severely hit airline customers due to dwindling passenger numbers and finances, made it difficult to plan for next year.
“At the moment I can’t make forecasts for 2010 or the end of 2009. Our visibility, and Airbus’s in particular, is six to seven months. We don’t know what airlines are going to do in terms of orders or deliveries.”