LE BOURGET, France (AP) -- With Airbus' new A400M airlifter bogged down in delivery delays, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing are hoping their proven C-130J and C-17 models will lure European air force buyers in urgent need of a new transport.
Worries about the A400M -- Europe's largest collective defense project -- simmered at the Paris Air Show this week. Many analysts believe it could even be on the verge of collapse.
"Many countries in Europe are looking at their airlift requirements and they need to make decisions in the short term," Peter Simmons, spokesman for Lockheed's Air Mobility division, said Wednesday. "We have been approached by a number of countries in Europe to fulfill that role."
Boeing also has held talks with members of the seven-nation Airbus program consortium, said Jean A. Chamberlin, vice president of its Global Mobility Systems division.
The A400M transporter project was launched in 2003 with a joint order for 180 planes from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey.
The hulking, gray aircraft with its blackened nose and quartet of black propellers with massive curved blades is designed to replace Lockheed Martin's aging C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft and the C-160 Transall transport aircraft developed by a French and German consortium.
But Airbus missed a crucial March 31 contractual deadline for the first flight due to lingering problems with the software that controls the plane's enormous new turboprop engines.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders sought to convince buyers that the A400M is "worth waiting for."
"You see from the statements from politicians recently.... that the A400M is a product that is highly valued, that the governments want. We've been able in recent weeks during the standstill period to convince governments that this product is for real. Yes we have delays, the reasons are well known," he said.
Airbus is presently negotiating new technical requirements and commercial terms with the seven buyers. Although France and Germany are willing to prolong negotiations for six months, defense ministers from the other five countries must approve the delay, which has already cost the planemaker euro2.3 billion ($3.2 billion) in penalties and other charges.
Simmons said those five countries have expressed interest in an aircraft that would bridge the A400M's four-year delivery delay, or that would provide a complementary airlift capability to the European plane.
European air forces were very interested in the C-130J -- a stretched and thoroughly modernized version of the venerable Hercules transport that first entered service 50 years ago -- because a number of them were already in service in Britain, Norway and Italy, he said.
"The C-130J is a well-proven, available airlift asset that can carry approximately 95 percent of all the loads that European fleets are required to carry, so it fits very well with their needs," Simmons said. "At a time of pressure on both capability and budgets you have a very cost-effective aircraft that is available as an option."
The C-130J is smaller than the A400M and can carry just over half of that plane's planned payload of 37 tons (81,000 ounds). It is equipped with new engines and propellers which give it exceptional short-field, hot-and-high performance and an extended range of about 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers).
Boeing's C-17 also figures in the inventories of European air forces, including members of the A400M consortium. Britain operates 6 of the jets, and a 12-nation NATO consortium has purchased a total of three for use by the alliance.
It is a significantly bigger plane than either the A400M or the C-130J, with a much more substantial payload of about 74 tons (164,000 pounds.).
Boeing's Chamberlin said the C-17 fulfills most of the European consortium's requirements because it -- like the A400M -- is both a strategic and tactical transport.
"It's an aircraft that's available now, and without any development costs," Chamberlin said.
AP Business Writer Emma Vandore in Le Bourget contributed to this report.