Europe Unveils Delayed A400M Military Plane

Europe unveiled the A400M military aircraft on Thursday, giving the public a first glimpse of a powerful turboprop plane being built to supply seven NATO countries with urgently needed strategic airlift capacity.

The plane has been developed by a unit of EADS at a cost of 20 billion euros ($31.34 billion), making it Europe's biggest military project still under development, but has been dogged by problems in producing the West's biggest ever turboprop engines.

The first plane to be assembled was due to be rolled out of a purpose-built hangar in southern Spain at a carefully stage-managed ceremony attended by King Juan Carlos of Spain.

But its maiden flight has been pushed back from January to September as a consortium led by Rolls Royce and Snecma wrestles with the engine problems.

The A400M was designed as Europe's answer to the ageing Lockheed C-130 Hercules, a powerful workhorse made to slip troops and equipment into the world's most rugged hotspots.

The sale of 180 A400Ms to a block of seven European nations -- Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and Turkey -- in 2003 was the continent's biggest ever single arms order.

Exports to South Africa and Malaysia brought the total of aircraft sold to 192, but a sale to Chile was cancelled.

"Our transport fleet is becoming obsolete and we need to increase our transport capacity in order to meet the requirements of the new missions all over the world, especially humanitarian but also troop support missions," said Major Fabrice Balayn from the French Air Force's logistics division.

France will take delivery of the first planes in 2010, some 6-12 months behind the original schedule.

EADS took 1.4 billion euros in provisions last year to compensate for contract losses triggered by the delays.