Airbus is optimistic about sales prospects for the A400M, its new military transport plane, trying to replace the ubiquitous C-130 Hercules as the workhorse of the world’s armed forces.

We’re talking to a number of customers here,'' said Airbus marketing head David Jennings at the Asian Aerospace exhibition in Singapore. “We've made first contacts with Malaysia, Thailand and Australia.''

First deliveries of the four turboprop plane – which is being developed by Airbus for seven European countries – are not expected until 2009. Still, Airbus representatives are aggressively marketing the A400M around the world, including Southeast Asia. The new A400M has a 356-square-metre cargo hold.

Thousands of transports of various sizes serve the world's air forces, fulfilling diverse roles including moving soldiers and military materials, relief aid, and acting as aerial fuel tankers for other aircraft. The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is the most common among them.

Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Britain and Luxembourg have already ordered 180 of the Airbus aircraft, worth an estimated $28 billion Cdn.

Airbus is a subsidiary of European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Co., which holds an 80 per cent stake in the company.

EADS, the world's second-largest aerospace and defence company, has been trying to make inroads into the defence aircraft industry. In recent years, Airbus also has gained ground against Boeing in the commercial aircraft market, and last year surpassed Boeing in jet deliveries.

Experts say the A400M is likely to face stiff competition from the C-130's latest model and the Boeing C-17 Globemaster.