Speaking at this year’s Paris Air Show, EADS CEO Louis Gallois announced that the long-delayed A400M military transport aircraft could make its first flight before the end of the year.

Gallois said that he foresaw the aircraft making its first flight “either before the end of this year or weeks into the next year”.

The chief also hailed as good news the announcement made by France and Germany to delay a final decision on the aircraft’s future by six months from the end of June, and indicated that the programme would proceed even if the UK, which has expressed alarm over the continued overruns, were to withdraw.

EADS has set aside €2.3bn to cover delays to the programme, which it is hoped will be recovered from the initial order of 180 aircraft from participating nations, as well as the sale of more aircraft on the export market.

A meeting of defence ministers to discuss the programme’s continuing viability is scheduled for later in June, when the fate of the aircraft will most likely be decided.