Airbus CEO Thomas Enders says the US will be the biggest customer for the A400M in 10 years' time. The statement comes after Spain has approved further test flights of the military transport plane after a fatal crash.
"By the next decade at the latest, the US armed forces will be the biggest customer for the aircraft," Airbus chief executive Tom Enders told German weekly "WirtschaftsWoche" in an interview published on Friday.
He stressed that despite the plane's history of delays and its recent technical problems, there was no rival product at present, with Boeing's C-17 a larger and Lockheed Martin's C-130 a smaller aircraft.
"But a lot of countries don't want either extreme," Enders told the magazine. "For the next few years, there will only be one alternative, the A400M, which is also a lot more fuel-efficient and more versatile."
One of the propeller-driven transport planes crashed during a test flight on May 9 near Seville, southern Spain, killing four of the six people on board and seriously injuring the two others.
The A400M was commissioned in 2003 and is assembled in Seville. Britain, Germany, Turkey, Malaysia and Spain grounded their A400M planes after the crash. The black boxes revealed that three of the aircraft's four engines failed, Airbus has said.
On Friday, the Spanish defense ministry announced that Spanish aviation authorities have granted permission for test flights of A400M aircraft and that they are expected to fully lift the total flight ban imposed after the crash in Seville.
EU guidelines on exports
In the magazine interview, Enders also called on politicians to establish EU-wide regulations on weapons exports, without which cross-border mergers in the defense industry "make no sense."
The German defense industry has come under pressure since Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he wants fewer weapons exports, triggering a heated debate about what can be exported and where. Enders and other industry executives have stressed that defense companies nowadays have to be able to export to survive.
ng/uhe (dpa, AFP)