Bye bye Airbus
Under plans announced last week, Britain is to give up its stake in Airbus, the company behind the A380. BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest defence and aerospace group, will sell its 20% stake, with the buyer almost certain to be EADS, the Franco-German combine that already owns the other 80%. BAE is expected to use the £3 billion from the sale to build up its defence-industry interests in America.Never say never. Aerospace stands alone in American industry once the auto-industry is gone.
The move signals the end of direct British ownership of the manufacture of civil aircraft. It cuts a bloodline that stretches from the A380 back through Concorde to the Comet and squadrons of other historic aircraft that once made Britain the top nation in aerospace.
It also threatens to rob Britain of one of its few remaining large-scale, high-tech manufacturing operations. At its plants at Broughton and Filton, near Bristol, Airbus directly employs 13,000 in the UK, and by its own estimate indirectly supports another 135,000 jobs.
While there appears to be no immediate threat to those jobs, aerospace experts say that over time the contracts are likely to leak away to France and Germany, and the skills and expertise are likely to go with them.
“The frustration we have is that Britain seems to be unique in not taking a direct interest in the future of such an important industry,” said Ian Waddell, national aerospace officer at the Amicus trade union. “You cannot imagine America allowing the sale of Boeing, but the British government is content to allow market forces to rule.”