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Business

Airbus Boss Admits Errors, Considers Failure as A400M Remains Grounded

Airbus faces a turbulent time as expectant customers of its much-maligned and error-plagued A400M military transport plane weigh up their options and Airbus chief Enders considers the consequences of failure.

A computer realization of the A400M in flight

In reality, the A400M has not even left the ground

The A400M may in time become known as 'The Albatross'. Not because of its wide wingspan or its ability to fly for incredible distances without a break but because it may become the aircraft tied around the neck of manufacturer Airbus as it sinks towards the murky depths.

The error-ridden and maligned military transporter project has prompted discussion, argument and consternation for some time among potential customers and the manufacturers themselves. But no comments could prove as damaging as those recently uttered by Thomas Enders, the boss of Airbus.

Enders revealed in an interview with Der Spiegel news magazine that he believed that, under its original conditions and plans, the A400M could not be built and that the seemingly doomed nature of the project had much to do with huge errors within his own company.

The A400M has been plagued by setbacks, with the aircraft's first flight postponed to a date that has yet to be determined because of engine problems.

A never-ending nightmare?

"Under the previous conditions we can not build the airplane," admitted Enders. "But, better an end with a fright than a fright with no end."

Airbus boss Thomas Enders

Enders hopes that the worst will soon be over

While the "end with a fright" may mean that after realizing that the current plans need to be scrapped thus sending the A400M back to the drawing board, the "fright with no end" -- a continuing nightmare which ends with the death of the whole project -- may not be as unavoidable as some may think.

Enders himself admitted that he has considered the ultimate failure of the project and while a new plan is taking shape as to how to progress with the A400M, the prospect of current orders for the problem-plagued plane being cancelled is a real possibility.

German Deputy Defense Minister Ruediger Wolf said only last week that cancelling orders on the military transport plane was a serious option.

"I have been waiting to hear about the problems with the A400M but until today we have no detailed information about what they are and whether these are solvable," criticized Wolf.

Wolf told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that to bring pressure on Airbus' parent company The European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), "cancellation must be a serious option after a delay of three to six months."

Wolf, who was quoted indirectly by Sueddeutsche Zeitung, said it was more realistic to extend to six months a moratorium accorded to EADS to get the program back on track.

Customers considering cutting, reducing orders

Countries that have ordered the plane -- Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey -- have suggested delaying from April 1 to July 1 the date on which they can begin to cancel contracts. French defense official Laurent Collet-Billon told reporters last week that Paris might reduce the number of planes it has ordered. France has signed on for 50 aircraft, while Germany has ordered 60.

EADS was supposed to get the transport plane in the air for an inaugural flight in January 2008, and the seven countries await a total of 180 A400Ms.

The first complete A400M military transport aircraft rolls out from the final assembly line in Seville, Spain

The A400M is built but cannot get off the ground

Deliveries had originally been scheduled to begin in 2009, but the first delivery is now planned for 2012 and it is only in 2014 that EADS will be able to deliver significant numbers of the aircraft to clients, according to reports.

Meanwhile, MTU Aero Engines, the German engine maker at the centre of the row over the delays said on Monday it was confident problems on the A400M would be resolved but declined to say when the plane would fly.

The company is responsible for the software needed to power the military transporter's engines, and Airbus says hitches in its development are largely to blame for delays of 3 to 4 years in the 20 billion euro ($27.29 billion) project.

"Airbus has asked everyone involved to stick with the timetable, and they are all working hard on their respective parts of the project," MTU Chief Executive Egon Behle told the company's annual news conference.

A consortium that includes MTU, Rolls-Royce and France's Safran is building the A400M's massive turbo-prop engines. They have said they have delivered a working test engine and deny causing the bulk of the delays.

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