Airbus expects Far East orders for tsunami rescue aircraft

Both Japan and New Zealand have inquired about the A400M to handle humanitarian crises
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The Independent Online

Far Eastern governments have contacted Airbus about ordering its latest military aircraft, which can cost more than $80m (£49m), to tackle humanitarian crises.

The A400M was originally designed for the defence needs of seven European countries, including the UK, Germany and France. Last year, the governments of those nations agreed a ¤3.5bn (£3.04bn) deal to salvage the much-delayed programme.

The aircraft is extremely flexible. Countries such as Japan and New Zealand have looked at buying it for humanitarian aid and rescue purposes after recent tsunamis and earthquakes. The Britain's Department for International Development (DfID) has also looked at the A400M.

Neighbouring Far Eastern governments are understood to have started looking at the possibility of teaming up in partnerships of two to three to afford the aircraft. There is no fixed cost because different clients have their own specifications, but the cost – tens of millions – puts them out of reach for most humanitarian groups.

At present, the Airbus parent company, EADS, is not officially trying to push A400 sales until 2012. But a soft marketing push, including conference presentations, has started.

Ian Elliott, the head of defence marketing at Airbus Military, said: "There's been quite some interest shown from affiliates of NGOs – government departments, like DfID.

"There has been interest from Far Eastern governments. You've only got to look at the disasters in the area to see how the A400 could help."

Mr Elliott added that the A400 had "enormous potential" in disaster relief, anti-piracy and illegal immigration control. For example, the advanced radar and communication facilities could easily track pirates.

He also confirmed that "informal contacts at mid-level staff levels" had started with some countries. "We will kick-off the export campaign next year," he said. "The full potential of this aircraft will really begin demonstrating itself when entering service."

The first delivery of the A400 is expected to be made to France in 2013. The other four initial clients are Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain and Turkey.

The news comes after a significant week for Airbus. The World Trade Organisation announced that it was partially overturning a 2010 verdict that the European Union had given Airbus $18bn in illegal subsidies to develop the A380 jumbo. Boeing, its US rival, had challenged the subsidies. Confusingly, both sides claimed victory. Airbus's president, Tom Enders, claimed the group had won on "all the key elements" and Boeing's Jim McNerney said it was "a clear, final win" for the US.

Lord Mandelson, the former European trade commissioner, urged the two parties not to continue the seven-year dispute because of the potential threat from emerging economies.