Airbus A400M aircraft crashes in Spain in setback to Europe's costliest defence programme

Smokes rises from the wreckage of a plane Airbus A400 which crashed in the San Pablo airport in Seville, sourthern Spain, May 9, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 
Smokes rises from the wreckage of a plane Airbus A400 which crashed in the San Pablo airport in Seville, sourthern Spain, May 9, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 

MADRID (Bloomberg, AFP) - Airbus Group NV said an A400M military transport aircraft crashed in Seville, potentially dealing a setback to Europe's biggest defence programme that's been dogged by cost overruns and order cancellations in recent years.

The manufacturer is investigating the circumstances of the accident, said Kieran Daly, a spokesman for Airbus' defence and space unit. Airbus assembles the four-engine turboprop transporter in Seville, southern Spain, and the aircraft has started service with armed forces in France, Germany, Turkey and Britain.

At least three people were killed in the crash, the regional emergency services said.

“There are at least three dead and two seriously injured,” a spokesman for the emergency services told AFP.  

The plane crashed in a non-residential area around a mile north of Seville airport, which was closed to traffic for about an hour.  

Airport authority AENA said on Twitter that the airport’s firefighters were at the scene of the crash, “beyond the airport’s perimeter.”

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said there had been “eight to 10 people on board”.  Speaking on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, where he was attending a campaign meeting, he sent his condolences to the victims, Spanish news agencies reported.

Aviation sources confirmed the plane was one of Airbus’ new A400M troop transporters, which are assembled at a factory in Seville.

Airbus Defence and Space, the Airbus division responsible for military aircraft, said the plane was destined for Turkey.  

The A400M is Europe's most costly defence programme, and is aimed at improving the region's military-transport capabilities, with current models several decades old.

Airbus has spent years haggling with governments over order numbers and follow-up financing as costs escalated and the A400M had to overcome technical and software glitches.

The aircraft is running more than 5 billion euros (S$7.46 billion) over budget at 25 billion euros. Customers including Germany and the U.K. have cut the number of A400Ms they are taking, and further cancellations are possible.

Airbus, which relies chiefly on its business making civilian airliners, appointed Fernando Alonso, head of flight test operations at the company, to lead the military aircraft unit last year amid repeated delays and quality shortfalls.