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Airbus tanker plane for Australia damaged in test

PARIS, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Airbus Military is investigating the loss of part of a refuelling boom over the Atlantic during testing of a tanker plane being developed for the Royal Australian Air Force.

The European planemaker does not expect the incident to delay the first delivery of the aircraft, which is scheduled for February, a spokesman said on Thursday.

However, the mishap comes at a critical time for Airbus parent EADS EAD.PA as the United States evaluates whether to buy tanker planes from the European group or rival Boeing BA.N in a contract worth up to $50 billion.

A decision on that deal is expected as early as next month.

The incident happened over the Atlantic on Wednesday at 1600 GMT during inflight testing between an EADS MRTT tanker plane and a Portuguese air force F-16 fighter, the spokesman said.

The boom, or refuelling arm, was damaged when it lost one of its two stabilising fins, making the device uncontrollable.

The cause of the incident was not reported.

“We are flying in almost operational conditions,” the spokesman said. “We hope to determine the origin of the malfunction and proceed with deliveries. At this point we don’t see any delay in the first delivery next month,” he said.

The damaged aircraft was not among the first two planes due to be delivered to Australia.

Both EADS and Boeing have experienced technical problems or delays with their most recently sold tanker aircraft. (Reporting by Tim Hepher; editing by Alexander Smith)