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France takes first Airbus A400M military airlifter

Reuters/Marcelo del Pozo

France on Monday took delivery of the first Airbus A400M military transport plane to be built. The pan-European aircraft maker hopes the sale will lead to hundreds more across the world.

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"It is an extremely high performance aircraft and I am quite proud that France is number one for delivery," French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a handover ceremony also attended by Spain's Prince Felipe.

But the huge turboprop, which has propellers more than five metres long, was delivered four years late and 6.2 billion euros over budget and France wants to reduce its order for the 2014-2018 period from 35 to 15.

Paris will eventually buy the 50 initially planned, however, Le Drian insisted.

The ambitious project was backed by seven Nato members: Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxermbourg, Spain and Turkey but was dogged by delays and broken budgets thanks to its complex engine and the various requirments of customers.

The A400M is a multi-task air lifter that can carry up to 37 tonnes, including armour or helicopters over 3,300 kilometres and can land on unprepared terrain, such as sand.

It aims to challenge the US-made Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, which has a capacity of 20 tonnes and was designed more than 50 years ago.

Its other rival, the C-17 Globemaster, which will be able to lift 76 tonnes, will exit production from 2015, US manufacturer Boeing announced recently.

Within a month, France will receive its second A400M and Turkey its first and a third plane is scheduled to be delivered to France by the end of this year.

Airbus Military aims to export 400 A400Ms in the next 30 years, on top of the 174 already ordered by European countries and Malaysia.

Germany has ordered 53, France 50, Spain 27 and Britain 22.

It will assemble 10 planes next year, and then about 30 a year.

Airbus Military is targeting the Gulf and the Asia-Pacific region, where several countries are renewing fleets.

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