The A400M military airlifter has taken another leap forward as wing manufacturing has begun at Airbus' Filton, Bristol site with machining of the first wing rib for the first production aircraft. The three metre long aluminium alloy block or 'billet' will become 'wing rib ten' following two further machining sessions and a number of other processes carried out over the coming weeks.

Charles Paterson, Head of A400M Wing at Airbus said: "Partners and suppliers worldwide are working on the production and delivery of various components for the first A400M. Start of the rib machining is a significant milestone and the result of substantial dedication and teamwork."

The Airbus Filton site, which leads the wing design for A400M, is manufacturing 20 of the 48 ribs in a set of A400M wings (the other 28 being supplied by Mecachrome of France). The machining at Filton is carried out in a dedicated rib cell on high-speed 5-axis machines supplied by Makino of Japan.

Other than the ribs, the A400M wings are essentially being constructed from composite materials (carbon fibre reinforced plastic - CFRP). Filton will be also be carrying out the wing final assembly and delivering the completed wings to the aircraft final assembly line in Seville, Spain. New facilities are currently being completed and commissioned in preparation for wing final assembly to begin shortly and first wing deliveries are scheduled for around year end.

Firm orders for A400M now stand at 192 aircraft - 180 in the original order for seven European NATO nations through OCCAR (60 for Germany; 50 for France; 27 for Spain; 25 for the UK; 10 for Turkey; 7 for Belgium and 1 for Luxembourg); plus 12 aircraft ordered by two further customers (8 for South Africa and 4 for Malaysia). The A400M, the world’s most modern military transport aircraft, will first fly in 2008 with deliveries beginning from 2009.

Designed specifically to meet the demanding conditions of the European Staff Requirement, (ESR), the A400M is providing the world's air forces with a much-needed replacement for the ageing fleets of C-160 Transalls and C-130 Hercules and will 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.

A leading aircraft manufacturer with the most modern and comprehensive product line on the market, Airbus is a global company with design and manufacturing facilities in France, Germany, the UK, and Spain as well as subsidiaries in the U.S., China and Japan. Headquartered in Toulouse, France, Airbus is an EADS joint Company with BAE Systems.