The new Airbus military transport plane, much delayed and much needed by European defence forces, flew in to the Paris Air Show on Friday with the French President on board.

The plane, offering an exceptional range of capabilities, was a highlight of the fifth day of the 50th Paris Air Show when the gates were also thrown open to the public.

French President Francois Hollande, flew in to the show in one of the first Airbus A400M military transport planes.

Hollande came from a base west of Paris to the Le Bourget business airport were the show takes place every two years, but was to return to nearby Paris by road later in the day.

The A400M is set to enter service with the French Air Force within weeks, following years of troubled development owing in part to problems with its powerful turbo-prop engines.

The plane, a star at Le Bourget, was built to transport 37 tonnes of personnel, armoured vehicles or helicopters up to 3,300 kilometres (2,000 miles) to rustic landing strips near battle or disaster zones.

Delays in production meant that the aircraft was not available to transport French troops when Hollande sent forces into Mali.

“It is ready and will be a great success,” Hollande forecast, both in military terms and commercially, generating badly-needed jobs for the French economy.

The French leader vowed that the plane would honour its “rendez-vous on July 14,” the national holiday when military aircraft of all stripes participate in an aerial parade above the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

Airbus expects to sell 400 of the cargo planes in the next 30 years, 174 of which have already been ordered by Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey.

It is four years behind schedule however, and has exceeded its initial budget by 6.2 billion euros ($8.2 billion), or about 10 percent.

As Hollande strolled through the show, two women activists from the Femen movement bared their breasts to highlight the plight of two others jailed since May 29 in Tunisia for having also demonstrated topless.

They were quickly handcuffed and taken away by the president’s security detail.

— New Airbus ‘Hushliner’ A350 flies over —

Another professional highlight of the show was a brief flyover by the new Airbus A350 passenger jet, in the air for just the third time since its maiden flight a week ago.

Airbus spokesman Alan Pardoe insisted the flyby was “not choreographed” but a part of the extensive flight tests, which are to total 2,500 hours, that all new planes undergo before they can be delivered to clients.

Dubbed the “Hushliner,” the plane passed in front of an effectively hushed crowd, followed by eight screaming jets of the Patrouille de France precision military flying team.

“It’s very elegant,” approved Genvieve Lefranc, a pensioner from the southern Dordogne region who came to Le Bourget with friends to see the A350.

“Handsome and majestic,” commented Jacques Juillet, another of those who made the trip, before adding: “Our pride and joy.”

Pardoe said Airbus was not sure when the plane first flew over Toulouse, southern France, “whether there was any prospect of getting it here,” noting that “the weather has kept us on our toes.”

Heavy thunderstorms that have drenched the show this week are not the kind of atmosphere that test officials prefer to begin with, he explained.

Airbus has booked 613 firm orders for the plane, 53 percent of which is composed of titanium and advanced aluminium alloys, and which has a list price that starts at $254.3 million for model that has 270 seats.

It is expected to cut fuel consumption by about 25 percent compared with most current long-haul airliners, competing directly with the Boeing 878 Dreamliner.

The public showed that they were highly impressed by the aircraft, as they milled about with cameras, folding chairs and strollers on the first day the show was open to the public.

Gray skies did little to dampen the mood as crowds gathered to see all sorts of aircraft, from combat helicopters and jets to tiny drones that can stream high-definition images to smartphones and iPads.

Show organisers broadcast snippets of conversations with the A350 cockpit and carefully selected musical backgrounds, while the drones danced in formation to the soundtrack from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Tony Bennett singing “Fly Me to the Moon.”