French official sees deal on A400 soon

A keenly awaited deal on the future of the troubled A400M military transport plane, affecting up to 10,000 European jobs, could be reached this week or next, France’s top arms procurement official said yesterday.

“We hope to have an agreement as quickly as possible; that could be this week or next,” Laurent Collet-Billon, head of the DGA arms procurement and export agency, told reporters.

France has ordered 50 of the troop and heavy equipment cargo planes developed by EADS subsidiary Airbus. It is one of seven countries that ordered a total of 180 airlifters for deployment in rugged areas such as Afghanistan. Total development costs have ballooned by €11bn (£9.6bn) and deliveries have been pushed back four years to 2013, raising doubts over the future of Europe’s biggest defence project. EADS and seven commissioning nations, including France, are locked in negotiations over a rescue deal, with EADS appealing for more than €4bn of additional public funding.

Talks held last Thursday raised the prospect of government loans to help bridge a €2.4bn gap in the amount EADS and buyers are prepared to invest in keeping the project afloat, but Germany said nothing had been set in stone.