Airbus has warned that Brexit could jeopardise the UK’s role as the airframer’s primary location for wing design and manufacturing.
Katherine Bennett, senior vice-president for the European manufacturer’s UK division, told the UK parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee – which is looking into the impact of Brexit on the country’s aerospace sector – on 21 November that “other countries would dearly love to design and manufacture wings” for its aircraft programmes.
Airbus produces the wings for its entire civil aircraft range in Broughton, North Wales, and has a site for design and manufacturing at Filton, near Bristol.
Bennett says the “real value” is in wing design and that Airbus’s UK sites have established specialist expertise in aerodynamics and wing design over decades. “UK engineers are just really good at it,” she says.
She describes wing design as the “crown jewels of aerospace” and says: “It is important to keep that capacity and build on that [for future programmes].
“That is what I see my job as: fighting so that the wing design… remains in this country,” she adds.
Bennett confirms that Airbus is “extremely committed” to its UK facilities and that “it is not terribly easy to move a huge manufacturing site”. But she says it is “most important” that the facilities stay “productive and competitive”.
She acknowledges that parts for air transport-category aircraft are exempt from tariffs under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules if customs charges were to apply between the UK and EU post-Brexit.
However, she says Airbus is concerned about non-tariff barriers – for example, additional customs procedures and bureaucracy – which could complicate supply chain processes and increase costs. In particular, small specialist suppliers could be disadvantaged, she notes.
Meanwhile, Bennett says, manufacturers from other countries have taken the Brexit referendum as an opportunity to potentially win additional work packages from Airbus: “They are knocking on the door as a result of the situation that we are in in this country.”