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December 10, 2009

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A400M to finally make first test flight

Airbus confirmed yesterday that its troubled A400M military transport plane will finally make its maiden flight later this week, even as governments are still wrangling over how to continue with the much delayed and over-budget project.

The plane will make its first test flight tomorrow morning from the Spanish city of Seville, Domingo Urena, head of Airbus' military unit, said in a letter.

EADS CEO Louis Gallois and Airbus CEO Tom Enders will join Urena at the San Pablo factory where the plane is assembled to watch the plane take off around 10am.

The project is running three to four years late, and Airbus missed a contractual deadline to fly the plane in March, meaning governments could in theory cancel the project.

Parent company EADS asked the seven governments to renegotiate the deal, and Airbus officials have threatened to walk away.

But analysts say that is not a likely option. EADS already has put aside 2.4 billion euros (US$3.55 billion) in provisions against losses related to the A400M, and it may have to repay as much as 5.7 billion euros to governments if the project is canceled.

Last week officials of the seven countries appointed a group of experts to continue talks with EADS, as an end-of-year deadline looms.

Airbus is seeking to overcome a deadlock between countries such as France and Britain, whose militaries need the aircraft urgently, and other countries, such as Germany, that have budget concerns.


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