Why Airbus needs NZ

On the eve of the first Airbus A400M military transport aircraft touching down in New Zealand, the aviation giant has reported a NZ$1.7b loss from the plane's production programme.

Airbus has been forced to pay for delays and capability shortfalls suffered by its customers, taking the costs for the A400M project to a staggering NZ$10b.

It's a huge hit to the programme which hasn't had a new order for more than a decade, and has only clocked up 174 orders from eight countries, with Malaysia the only non-European customer.

Adding salt to the wound is the cancellation of big orders from the Italian and South African air forces because of the continued delays.

The setbacks, lack of new orders and general bad press is why Airbus needs New Zealand. It needs our small nation on the other side of the world to restore confidence in the A400M programme.

It needs the Government to buy a handful of A400Ms as a replacement for the 52-year-old Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) C-130 Hercules fleet.

While the plane arriving in Wellington this afternoon is owned by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and is primarily here for Ohakea's Air tattoo, Airbus officials will accompany it and will use it as a not-too-subtle pitch to the government.

Why Airbus needs NZ

It's understood Air Force chief Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies, and Ministry of Defence deputy acquisition secretary Mike Yardley have been invited to give the RAF plane a once over while it's here.

Problems aside, the A400M is an impressive aircraft. It's a modern turboprop military transport aircraft that can land on short, unpaved runways, as well as fly to Antarctica and back without refuelling.

Its payload is four times that of the Hercules, and it has a maximum takeoff weight that's 70 tonnes heavier.

One of the most appealing features of the A400M for the RNZAF is its ability to fit the NH90 helicopter in the main hold, which none of its current planes can do.

If Airbus can convince Defence top brass and Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee to place an order for the plane, it will be a huge boost for the company.

What's even better is that it's likely to be good for the public purse too - Airbus is so desperate for new orders, it's likely to give us a big discount off the NZ$230m list price.