PARIS - France received its 14th A400M Atlas military airlifter on March 16, a hand over earlier than expected due to the higher quality of the aircraft, the Armed Forces Ministry said Thursday.

“This delivery took place several months in advance of the scheduled date, thanks to significant improvement in the quality of the aircraft delivered,” the ministry said in a statement. The plane was flown March 20 to the Orleans airbase, a short flight south of the capital.

The quality of the 13th and 14th A400M were improved, such that the Direction Générale de l’Armement certified the aircraft in only three weeks, about half the time previously needed, a spokesman for the procurement office said.

Delivery of the 14th unit means the A400M fleet is now large enough for the air force to fly operational missions and also, shortly, to conduct test flight campaigns to certify further tactical capabilities, including in-flight refueling of Rafale fighter jets, the spokesman said. Other planned tests include landing the transport aircraft on rough airstrips.

The 15th A400M is due to be shipped next year, the first of the 11-strong batch of units scheduled for delivery in the draft 2019-2025 military budget law. That would being the French fleet to 25 units, halfway to the total order for 50 A400Ms for France.

Separately, an A400M for the first time flew 26 tons of fuel to the Menaka and Tessalit French army bases in Mali, supporting the Barkhane mission, army Col. Patrik Steiger, spokesman for the joint chiefs of staff, told journalists today. That single flight of logistical support to the African bases would previously have taken a few days, he added.

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