Sept 30 - France's defence minister says the export potential for EADS's A400M military transporter is ''huge'', as the 20 billion euro ($27 billion) project starts delivering aircraft to its founding nations after years of delays. But as Ivor Bennett reports Europe's largest ever collaborative defence project has been fraught with problems.
It's been decades in the making, but the project is now finally complete. Airbus has unveiled its first A400M military transporter plane - thirty years after development began. With 7 nations involved, it's Europe's largest-ever collaborative defence project. It cost 20 billion euros. Founders even had to agree a 3.5 billion euro bailout in 2010 as the budget ballooned. Export royalties were supposed to help recoup the outlay but demand so far has been weak. Malaysia's currently the only export customer - engine problems and delivery delays dogging sales. Defence analyst Howard Wheeldon says it could be years before sales take off. SOUNDBITE (English) AEROSPACE AND DEFENCE ANALYST HOWARD WHEELDON, SAYING: "I think it'll be a very very slow process. Traditionally transport aircraft is a very come-see, come-sigh. It's feast or famine. It will take a long time but this aircraft will be around for a long time. Twenty years from now it'll still be the most modern transport aircraft available. So yes I think it will get there, but it's going to take a long time." The plane was designed to meet Europe's needs in military transport. It can carry up to nearly 40 tonnes of cargo. 170 planes are being delivered to the founding nations, but some may not even keep them. It's thought Germany, France and Spain are all keen to sell on their own allocations. With the financial crisis leaving cupboards bare - it seems a balanced budget is now the bigger concern.