Hobbling decades of business practice at a manufacturer built on the free movement of people and goods, Brexit will make it harder to shift workers between countries, and this is the concern of Airbus SE, the European planemaker with production sites dotted around the continent.
Airbus operates multiple daily delivery flights from a Welsh factory to its base in Toulouse, France, and a second assembly line in Hamburg, and it makes wings for all of its jets in the U.K. as well as corporate shuttles for managers. Klaus Richter, the company’s purchasing chief said that any curbs on travel once Britain leaves the European Union would make it harder to operate.
“You can’t run this operation by breathing through a straw,” Richter, who also heads Germany’s aviation association, told journalists in Berlin. “That’s something that occupies us.”
To create a group which today competes on a global scale with Boeing Co., France, Germany, Spain and the U.K. pooled large parts of their aerospace expertise and thus Bottom of Form
Airbus is a poster-child for successful European integration. The company is able to manage work requirements more nimbly while granting workers time abroad due to its production method whereby parts are built at facilities across Europe and sent to Toulouse or Hamburg for final assembly.
With U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May vowing to reduce net migration to below 100,000 a year, restrictions on free movement are seen as an inevitable consequence of Brexit. Since they need a steady supply of foreign labor to fill posts that local people are unwilling to take or aren’t sufficiently qualified for, key industries and services in Britain says the curbs mustn’t go too far.
While the Welsh facility at Broughton has 6,000-plus workers, the company employs more than 4,000 people at its Filton site near Bristol, mainly in wing design and manufacturing. The Welsh facility churns out more than 1,000 wings a year, many of which are loaded onto massive Beluga transport planes for final assembly. For shipping, the biggest A380 superjumbo wings are taken to a local seaport.
For its single-aisle aircraft, the company’s bread-and-butter products that compete with Boeing Co.’s 737 models, is manufactured by Airbus at its final assembly lines in China and Alabama.
Britain is wary of guarding its expertise in making the vital parts, while some wing components are already made in Stade in northern Germany today.
Richter said that as the industry moves away from metal frames to lighter composite materials, Airbus has invested heavily at its U.K. sites to accommodate a higher proportion of carbon components.
Saying in February that the aerospace sector “will do what we can as an industry to take influence on both sides of the Channel”, Airbus Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders has voiced similar concerns. There are “a lot of industries who share this concern and who share this same approach as we do,” he added.
(Adapted from Bloomberg)