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RAF's new military airlifter finally lumbers into the air

Crap, many years late - but at least it's expensive

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And then things started to go wrong unexpectedly ...

And in fact the building didn't go to plan. After the politicians had finished messing up the project, the European aerospace business had a go. Massive blunders were made during development, and today's first flight is four years behind schedule - suggesting that in fact it could be 2015 before the UK gets planes into service.

Delays of this sort mean increased costs, so the £100m pricetag goes out of the window along with the delivery date. So badly have the A400M's international builders violated their contract, and so clearly is this their fault, that the UK actually had the option during this past year to walk away from it.

But this would probably mean job losses here in Blighty, where the A400M's wings and certain other bits are to be made. Never mind that British troops in combat right now are hamstrung by our lack of airlift*, and that the plant in America which makes C-17s is extremely keen to supply more planes at rock-bottom prices in short order - it is short of business, the US forces' buy having been completed.

Never mind that, as is usual in these cases, we could almost certainly give every sacked British worker a six- or even seven-figure payoff, buy better planes for our overstretched forces, get them sooner and still save money for our overstretched Treasury.

In case you're wondering, the A400M will not free us from dependence on America either - it is chockful of US stuff which will require US support.

We have decided to stay with the A400M anyway, a fact which almost beggars belief. Negotiations with continental mammoth European Aeronautics Defence and Space (EADS) are underway at the moment regarding the size of the pillow the British taxpayer will be compelled to bite - or more accurately, as the original deal was already an incredibly bad one, how much bigger the pillow is to get.

Reports on today's long-delayed initial outing tell us that the test aircraft has a unique feature - it has been rigged with explosives capable of blasting an escape route open for the crew in the event of disaster. This would of course wreck the plane, but the test pilot - a former RAF Hercules driver, as it happens - and his colleagues would be in the clear.

British taxpayers and those who support our fighting troops might justifiably wish that something similar had been used to get the RAF out of the A400M programme as a whole. ®

* Often missing large chunks of their hard-earned home leaves waiting for delayed or cancelled planes; and often reliant on American planes for critical life-saving assistance.

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