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Airbus finally delivers first A400M military transport plane

European plane maker Airbus has handed over its first A400M military transport aircraft. Recipient France praised the development of the plane as a high-performance technological feat that came at a cost.

Following years of delays and significant cost overruns, Airbus on Monday delivered its first A400M military transport plane, handing over the large turboprop aircraft to France at a ceremony in Seville in southern Spain.

"It's an extremely high-performance aircraft and I'm quite proud that France is number one for delivery," French defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in the presence of Spain's Prince Felipe.

The minister added his country was sticking to earlier commitments to take 50 of the new aircraft, but conceded France would buy only 15 "right now" under its 2014-2019 supply program currently being debated in parliament.

Multi-purpose plane

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Airbus had expressed concern that any decision by France to eventually axe orders could lead other nations such as Spain and Germany to follow suit, thus squeezing the entire program.

It took some 10 years to bring the A400M to the skies, with the project having been dogged by delays and broken budgets as developers struggled with the complex engine and divergent requirements voiced by client nations.

The aircraft can transport up to 37 tons, including armor or helicopters over a distance of 3,300 kilometers (2,050 miles). It can also land on unprepared terrain such as sand. It's the only plane on the market to challenge the US-made Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules which has a capacity of 20 tons and was designed 50 years ago.

hg/ipj (AFP, Reuters)

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