The most ambitious European military procurement programme ever undertaken was launched today with the signature of the contract for the purchase of 180 A400M military transport aircraft.

The future military airlifter, chosen by seven European NATO nations to equip their air forces, is now a reality. Today's announcement signals the start of a seventy-seven month, single-phase development and production programme leading to first deliveries from 2009.

The contract was signed in Bonn, Germany between Airbus Military and OCCAR (Organisation Conjointe de Coopération en Matière d’Armement), the procurement organisation representing the launch customers.

Representing a twenty-year programme for the European military aircraft industry, the A400M contract provides for a total of 180 aircraft to be delivered to the launch customers as follows: Belgium, 7; France, 50; Germany, 60; Luxembourg, 1; Spain, 27; Turkey, 10; United Kingdom, 25.

At the same time, the Airbus subsidiary responsible for the management of the A400M military airlifter has been established. Responsibility for the A400M programme is vested in Airbus Military SL (Sociedad Limitada), a Spanish legal entity registered in Madrid and having as its shareholders the industrial partners representing the launch customer nations. Noël Forgeard, Airbus President and CEO, is elected Chairman of the Board and Francisco Fernández-Sáinz, Managing Director.

Designed specifically to meet the demanding conditions of the European Staff Requirement (ESR), the A400M will provide the world's air forces with a much-needed replacement for the aging fleets of C-160 Transalls and C-130 Hercules and provide the rapid reaction capability that is essential in responding to crisis situations.

With its high cruise speed, intercontinental range and voluminous cargo hold, the A400M will significantly increase the load-carrying capacity of the aircraft it will replace, whilst retaining their essential tactical, short and soft field operating characteristics.

The A400M's first flight will take place in 2008 from the final assembly facility to be established in Seville.

The choice by Europe's air forces of a common aircraft type will also enhance interoperability in multi-national peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in the context of NATO and the United Nations.

Airbus Military is already in discussion with other major air forces that have expressed interest in this new-generation airlifter.