France has ordered 50 A400Ms to be delivered starting this year and will be the first nation to receive the new strategic airlifter. Last year, Airbus Military was set to begin A400M deliveries to the French air force in November 2012, well ahead of the contractual deadline in March, but the program was massively restructured in 2009 due to major development delays.
In September, the first two A400M deliveries were shifted to the second quarter this year related to engine issues that have since been resolved. Function and reliability trials took place in December and the aircraft is due to fly again early this year. Airbus Military is now planning four A400M deliveries in 2013, three to France, one to Turkey.
In October, when Paris began hinting at a Malian intervention, lawmakers questioned the readiness of the air force's strategic transport capability.
“Where is the A400M?” Philippe Folliot asked French armaments agency (DGA) Director Laurent Collet-Billon during testimony before the defense commission in October. “Can deliveries be accelerated, if only to avoid having extend the life of our old Transall?”
Collet-Billon said that by June the air force should begin crew training and planning for pre-operational capabilities.
“I am in favor of increasing the number of A400Ms if given the budget, which is not the case,” Collet-Billon told Folliot. “It is convenient to make a trade-off between the transmission capacity logistics and intervention on the ground.”
Since Hollande took office in May, the government has been reviewing defense priorities in light of the nation's fiscal crisis. A new strategy and program law are expected in the coming weeks. Already the military has faced a funding reduction of about 10% in 2011-13 that has forced delays in major programs, including procurement of new multi-role tanker transports set to replace the air force's 50-year-old tankers. The first new aircraft now is expected in 2017.