German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a news conference with Iraq's Kurdistan region's President Massoud Barzani in Erbil, Iraq, September 23, 2016. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari(reuters_tickers)
By Sabine Siebold
BERLIN (Reuters) - German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen hopes to make a decision this autumn about whether to acquire a smaller military transport plane to cover a gap in capabilities once the Transall transport leaves service in 2021, she told Reuters in an interview.
Germany is part of a European consortium that funded development of the troubled A400M transport plane by Airbus, but German studies have shown it will need some smaller planes since the A400M cannot land on unprepared runways.
That capability is now handled by the existing fleet of Transall transport planes, which date back to the 1960s, but will need to be addressed once the planes are retired.
"I am optimistic that we will be able to provide answers this fall," von der Leyen said in the interview published on Thursday. "That includes how we want to cover the expected capability gap for the time after 2021."
Von der Leyen declined comment on whether Germany could buy C-130J Super Hercules transport planes built by Lockheed Martin Corp on its own or with other countries.
She said Germany was working with other countries involved in the A400M programme about how to cover needs not addressed by the new transport plane.
"Since the A400M was a joint programme by several countries, we are examining whether we could fill this gap with some of those countries," she added. "We are in talks with several countries that are very interested in such a cooperation."
Von der Leyen did not name those countries, but sources familiar with the matter said Germany had been in discussions with France, which has already decided to buy 4 C-130J aircraft, and Britain, which was the launch customer for the J-model of Lockheed's workhorse C-130s in 1998 and has said it is looking at selling some of the first C-130Js it bought.
Government sources said in the past that the purchase of other aircraft would be a last resort, with officials hoping to develop a multinational solution, such as leasing transport capabilities from Britain, the United States or France.
Germany has also looked at buying planes with other countries and operating them together.
Von der Leyen declined comment on the total sum of fines that Airbus faced for delays in deliveries of its A400M aircraft. She said negotiations were continuing on that issue.
"Under the current contract, each day of delay costs the company money. The total sum will depend on how quickly the manufacturer can solve its problems and deliver what was promised," she said.
Earlier this month, Airbus made its second delivery of A400M aircraft to Germany this year, with several more airplanes to be delivered before year-end.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Peter Cooney)