Airbus has given its strongest signal yet that a no-deal Brexit from the European Union will have long-term consequences of its position within the United Kingdom. In a video published January 24 on the Airbus website, president Tom Enders warned that “if there is a no-deal Brexit, Airbus will have to make potentially very harmful decisions for the UK.”
Airbus has voiced its concerns frequently since the outcome of the 2016 referendum, in which a majority of the Britains voted ‘leave’. Enders and president commercial aircraft Guillaume Faury discussed the issue at length with media ahead of last year’s Farnborough Air Show, warning that production would be severely disrupted due to the interruption to the flow of parts. On the opening day of Farnborough, both addressed UK prime minister Theresa May personally, pleading for an orderly agreement with a transition period. With the March 29 deadline looming, May’s first proposal voted down on January 15 and only days away of a vote in parliament on Plan B on January 29, Airbus tries to get the support of the Remainders.
Enders says: “Please don’t listen to the Brexiteers’ madness which asserts that, because we have huge plants here, we will not move and always be here. They are wrong. Of course, it is not possible to pick up our large UK factories to other parts of the world immediately. However, aerospace is a long-term business and we could be forced to re-direct future events in the event of a No-Deal Brexit. Make no mistake: there are plenty of countries out there who would love to build wings for Airbus aircraft”.
As one of the founding members of Airbus in 1969, the UK has had a strong position that concentrates on designing and building the wings of all Airbus types since the A300. It’s Broughton (Wales) facilities have constantly been expanded. With the majority share in the Bombardier C Series, Airbus also got itself an extra production facility in Belfast for the A220 at Bombardier Aerospace. In total, Airbus employs 14.000 workers directly and 110.000 indirectly at 25 sites within the UK, generating £6bln of turnover.
Enders’ threats might seem just bargaining, but there is a definite urgency for Airbus to get certainty on its future within the UK. Since a few years, it is working on the Wings of the Future program, which studies technical as well as production options for wings for the next generation of Airbus airliners. Only last October Airbus and Northrop Grumman signed a three-year cooperation and research agreement to study out of autoclave composite wing stiffener-forming automation. With production in Alabama shaping up in the next few years, the US would love to add wing production to this as well.
Similarly, Bombardier Aerospace is vying for more work at its Belfast facilities, offering know-how on the design and manufacturing of composite wings. Other countries like Mexico, South Korea and China have also shown interest in getting a slice of the work, which would see wing manufacturing move away from Europe.
“We are not dependent on the UK for our future. Airbus will survive an thrive whatever the outcome”, says Enders, calling again on the UK to come up with a pragmatic withdrawal agreement that allows for an orderly Brexit.