December 11, 2009 / 9:19 AM / 9 years ago

Airbus A400M starts long-awaited maiden flight

SEVILLE, Spain, Dec 11 (Reuters) - A new European military transport plane, the Airbus EAD.PA A400M, took to the skies on Friday in a boost to a 20 billion euro ($29.45 billion) project threatened by soaring costs after a two-year development delay.

British test pilot Ed Strongman and crew donned parachutes over red overalls to power up the propellor plane — dubbed “grizzly” by test engineers after its burly appearance.

The A400M was commissioned by seven European NATO countries to support combat operations in rugged zones like Afghanistan or to assist in humanitarian relief operations.

The plane carries aloft its designers’ hopes that the three-hour maiden flight will help to save Europe’s biggest defence project from being grounded.

But an estimated 5 billion euro cost overrun has placed the plane’s future in doubt, forcing Airbus to hold negotiations with buyers on the sidelines of the inaugural flight. (Reporting by Tim Hepher, Sabine Siebold; Editing by Tracy Rucinski)

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