About 7,000 wing-manufacturing jobs at Wales would be put at risk duet Brexit uncertainties, as the United Kingdom is running the risk losing out its “crown jewels” of the aviation industry to China, Airbus has told British MPs.
A shift of the business to Asia could be accelerated by reduced long-term investments due to reduced employee mobility and the threat of new customs bureaucracy, the business select committee of the parliament was warned by the company’s senior corporate representative in the UK.
She was “fighting to ensure that wing design – the crown jewels of aerospace – remains in this country”, said Katherine Bennett even though no current plans to move is in place.
“I need to let you know, committee, that other countries would dearly love to design and build wings,” she told MPs. “Some of them already do; we do build wings in China now, and believe you me they are knocking at the door as a result of the situation we are in in this country.
“Every single thing we export goes into the EU – we don’t export anywhere else – so non-tariff barriers are a really big thing for us,” added Bennet. “[This is] yet another burden going on my shoulder when I am putting a good case for the UK”.
£1.5bn a year would be the added costs to the industry due to the new customs obstacles, predicts experts at a hearing which was followed by a written evidence.
At present, up to 60 wings are built every month for its European parent company by the Airbus factory situated at Broughton, North Wales. This is also the place which gave birth to aviation classics as De Havilland’s Comet and Mosquito planes.
But if there is excessive new customs bureaucracy, the two hour turnaround time for transportation of the built wings from the UK facility to their assembly unit at Toulouse, France, would be nearly impossible to achieve, the company says.
“The big issue for us on customs is non-tariff barriers [affecting the] movement of parts across the Channel, of which we have a huge number every single day,” she added. “With several [Beluga] movements a day. we really don’t need any customs burdens or paperwork getting in the way.”
Another worry for the company is the end to the free movement of labor after Brexit sets in as the company might lose access to its key employees as the company has created an international working group at its UK factory. About 1300 employees of the company are Britishers who work on the European continent while there are about 600 employees of the group who are nationals of other EU countries.
“In order to get on in our company you have to have worked in another country,” said Bennett. “The most important thing is our sites remain competitive and productive … and I have to say Brexit puts an extra burden on us.”
(Adapted from The Guardian)