Airbus Seeks to Oust Alenia for Afghan Transport Plane

Airbus Military is in talks to provide troop-transport aircraft to the Afghan National Army in the wake of a Pentagon decision to scrap a contract to use planes built by Finmeccanica SpA.

The discussions involve provision of CN235s and larger C295s aircraft, Domingo Urena-Raso, the Airbus Military chief executive officer, said in an interview. The Airbus SAS unit is targeting 30 new orders this year, he said in Toulouse in southern France yesterday.

The Pentagon late last year said it would not extend a contract with Finmeccanica’s Alenia Aermacchi to provide 20 G222 cargo turbo-propeller aircraft to the Afghan forces, citing reliability concerns. Alenia, with its C-27 that replaced the G222, and Airbus Military dominate the market for small military transport planes.

Airbus won 75 percent of light transport plane orders last year, Urena-Raso said. It booked deals for 28 C295s and four CN235s last year.

Sales of smaller planes will dominate also this year even as the company ramps up export efforts for the A400M Atlas, Europe’s largest airlifter, he said. The first A400M is scheduled to go to the French Air Force in the second quarter.

“We are now in the phase when we are switching from A400M development to production,” Urena-Raso said. Airbus expects to hand over four A400Ms this year, three to France and one to the Turkish air force. It plans to produce 10 aircraft next year and 21 in 2015.

French Airlifter

The first French air force aircraft is due to fly for the first time in March. Civil certification of the type is likely in February, Urena-Raso said. Military authorities are due to approve the model before April, although he said that schedule could still change by “a couple of weeks.”

With deliveries starting after years of delay, Airbus Military will also accelerate efforts to win new customers to help pay for a program that will lose money because of cost overruns unless more deals are secured. Near-term prospects exist in India, the Middle East and Asia although firm contracts are not expected before next year, Urena-Raso said.

Sales for the European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. unit this year should also include several A330-based air-to-air refueling airplanes. India said this month it was in talks with Airbus to buy six aircraft in a contract that could be completed by year end.

Brazil, Singapore and others are also considering buying airborne gas stations. Airbus and France also are in talks for an order of A330 tankers, although the deal may not be finalized this year, Urena-Raso said.

(Corrects French, Turkish A400M split in sixth paragraph.)
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