SEVILLE, Spain - After years of delays and huge cost over-runs, Airbus on Monday delivers its first A400M military transport plane, handing over the huge turboprop to France at its Spanish assembly plant.
The pan-European aircraft maker expects the ceremony at the Airbus Military plant in Seville, southern Spain, to be the start of sales to military forces worldwide.
The plane was actually delivered on August 1 but the official ceremony was being held Monday in the presence of French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Spain's Prince Felipe.
The French minister was to return to a military base in Orleans aboard the tactical lifter, which is equipped with propellers measuring more than five metres (16 feet) long.
It took 10 years to bring the A400M to the skies in one of the European military industry's most ambitious projects, backed by seven partners: NATO members Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey.
The project was dogged by delays and broken budgets as developers struggled with the complex engine design and the divergent requirements of client nations.
In January 2010, Tom Enders, then Airbus head, even threatened to leave the project if the seven countries refused to share the budget over-runs.
Two months later, they reached an agreement in principle, but it took another year of arduous negotiations to sign a final contract as the European economic and financial crisis squeezed military budgets.
Finally, four years late and 6.2 billion euros (S$10.53 billion), or 30-per cent, over budget, Tom Enders, now chief executive of Airbus parent EADS, is handing over the revolutionary aircraft to France, its first client.
The A400M was designed at the request of European chiefs of staff after the first Gulf War of 1991, which exposed the need for such a plane.