PARIS — European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has delivered the first of its long-awaited A400M military transport planes to France, the defense ministry said Thursday.
The French military “has received the first aircraft of the A400M series of military transport aircraft,” said the ministry, adding it would fly to the Orleans-Bricy airbase Friday to enter service.
It called the delivery the “successful outcome of long, complex and close cooperation” between the manufacturer Airbus Military and experts from the seven countries that backed its development.
The giant plane can carry helicopters, people or armored vehicles weighing up to 37 tons over 3,300 kilometers (2,050 miles) and is able to land directly in combat areas or disaster zones on rough terrain, even on sand.
Airbus expects to sell 400 of the cargo planes in the next 30 years, 174 of which have already been ordered by Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey.
Delivery is four years behind schedule, however, and its development exceeded its initial budget by 6.2 billion euros (US $8.2 billion), or about 10 percent, owing in part to problems with its powerful turbo-prop engines that allow it to land and take off in shorter distances.
The plane was a star at Le Bourget in June, with French President Francois Hollande arriving at the airshow in a test model of the aircraft.
The main two other transport aircraft on offer today are built by US firms. Lockheed Martin’s C-130 Hercules has a smaller payload, and Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster can land only in big airports.
The French defense ministry said an official ceremony marking the entry into service would be organized at a later date.