PARIS France took delivery of the first Airbus A400M on Thursday, ending a four-year wait for Europe's military transporter whose development has been plagued by technical problems and soaring costs.
Its deployment -- four years behind schedule and three decades after Europe's planners first began discussing building an independent military airlift capacity -- is expected to kickstart a campaign to find new export markets.
The A400M was developed for seven European NATO nations at a cost of more than 20 billion euros ($26.47 billion).
It boasts the largest turbo-prop engines built in the West and can accommodate up to 37 tonnes of cargo such as helicopters, armoured vehicles, troops or medical evacuation.
But problems in developing the huge engines led to delays and a 3.5 billion euro bailout from seven partner nations -- Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey -- in 2010, to help protect 10,000 European defence jobs.
Airbus hopes to find buyers for hundreds of the aircraft, which competes with the Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) C-130 Hercules turboprop and the larger Boeing (BA.N) C-17 cargo jet.
If it succeeds in exporting the A400M, it must hand back some of the 2010 bailout money, which includes 1.5 billion euros of cash effectively loaned against royalties from exports.
Formal delivery took place a day after Airbus parent EADS EAD.PA announced plans to combine the A400M and other transporter activities with other defence and space business as Europe's largest aerospace group also adopts the Airbus brand.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Tim Hepher; Editing by Christian Plumb and Elaine Hardcastle)