PARIS: France on Wednesday insisted that the building of high-tech Airbus A400M military transport planes must go ahead but Germany looked unwilling to plough more money into the much-delayed project.
French Defence Minister Herve Morin said the programme must be completed, responding to a report that the Airbus head wants to pull out, and insisted that client countries share the unforeseen extra costs.
“We want this programme to be completed,” Morin said in a televised interview on Wednesday. “We have put all possible technological efforts into this plane.”
Morin had said earlier that talk of dropping the 20-billion-euro project was a bid by the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) to gain leverage in refinancing talks.
He pointed the finger at the German government, reportedly reluctant to share the mounting costs.
According to the Financial Times Deutschland on Tuesday, Airbus chief Thomas Enders told a group of Airbus directors he “no longer believed in pursuing the programme” and had begun to prepare for it to be terminated.
Morin said on Tuesday that this was “a way of putting pressure on the German government” to help pay for completion of the project.
Developing the innovative high-tech aircraft has proved much more costly and time-consuming than first planned when the project was agreed in 2003 by NATO members Germany, Spain, France, Britain, Turkey, Belgium and Luxembourg.
A total of 180 aircraft have been ordered for about 20 billion euros (29 billion dollars) but clients are being asked to plough in more to cover unexpected costs which Morin estimated at five billion euros.
A source close to the German defence ministry was quoted on Wednesday in the newspaper Handelsblatt as saying: “It is out of the question for us to pay more than the 650 million euros extra stipulated in the contract.”
Germany’s defence ministry, which has ordered 60 of the aircraft for six billion euros, said on Wednesday it aimed to reach an agreement with Airbus but declined to say whether it would to cough up more money.
“We are focusing on implementing… the deal agreed with the company so that the aircraft is made,” ministry spokesman Steffen Moritz told reporters in Berlin.
“But, of course, there are constant considerations about what other options there are.”
Turkey meanwhile said it remained committed to the A400M but insisted it did not wish to pour more money into the troubled project.
“We do not wish to see the A400M project cancelled and we do not think it is right to decrease the number of planes to be purchased,” Defence Minister Vecdi Gonul said in an Anatolia news agency report.
He stressed that Ankara, which plans to buy 10 of the planes, could not go over the price ceiling approved by the Turkish parliament for the project.
“Turkey’s position… is to have no decrease in the number planes in the project and no increase in the base price of a plane,” Gonul’s office said in a statement.
Morin criticised Airbus, the pride of the French aerospace industry, for its handling of the project.
He said it should have drawn up a specific military contract, in which “there are always clauses that allow the price to be re-evaluated because we know there are always cost increases with military programmes.”
Aerospace analyst Howard Wheeldon of London stockbrokers BGC Partners said that despite the German reservations, he expected the countries concerned to reach an agreement.
“Termination at this interesting juncture would set the air forces of many nations back to the point of their not being able to meet their respective NATO commitments a few more years from now,” he wrote on Tuesday.
“Having got this far it would be quite ridiculous for governments to walk away.”