An alternate UK aerospace industry?


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4 June 2006
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There is a section in the above link...

The path to BAE's involvement in Airbus has already been well documented - it became a fully paid-up 20% shareholder in 1979 (as the nationalised British Aerospace), having baulked at joining the Franco-German consortium when it was formed in 1970 despite the fact that the UK was on the original "European air bus" steering group in the 1960s. Hawker Siddeley Aviation (HSA) had kept the Union flag flying from the creation of Airbus, taking on the design and construction of the A300's wing as a subcontractor.

Just as Airbus Industrie was about to be created, the UK government announced on 10 April 1969 it would not be signing up - perhaps coincidentally, one day after the first UK-assembled Concorde made its maiden flight from Filton. That decision arguably created a situation that led directly to the UK's withdrawal 37 years later.

International co-operation

Announcing the decision, the UK's then Labour minister of technology Anthony Wedgwood Benn said the government was "not satisfied that it was a good investment to go ahead with the project at this stage". The UK was being asked to find one-third of the estimated £180 million development costs for the "A-300" widebody - an aircraft that, at the time, was attracting little interest from potential customers.

The UK was already up to its neck in civil aircraft investment through British Aircraft Corporation's (BAC) 50/50 joint venture with Sud Aviation (later Aerospatiale) in the Anglo-French Concorde programme - an aircraft that had then accumulated an impressive tally of commitments and was perceived as the future of air transport development.

While Concorde heralded much of the cross-Channel co-operation that would be a cornerstone of Airbus Industrie, it differed in some key areas where national pride influenced decisions that should have been based purely on sound business strategy - the duplicated production lines in France and the UK, and the requirement that systems and equipment be sourced from French and UK companies. Not only did this eliminate the ability to spread the risk (and eventually the reward, had it been successful) outside the two partner nations, but also added to the cost of the programme and led to some complex organisational structures when the development of a system was carved up and allocated to companies on each side of the English Channel.

While the UK had backed the wrong horse with Concorde, the SST's French partner, Sud Aviation, pursued a parallel course by becoming a founder-member of Airbus Industrie with Germany. The result: Toulouse Blagnac airport - the home of Sud Aviation - is now the most important aerospace city in Europe and, arguably, the world. Meanwhile, in the UK, most of the old BAC and HSA civil aircraft plants no longer exist, with the exception of Filton near Bristol and Broughton in north Wales.

Now, what if the UK had followed the French way and had a finger in each pie , what kind of production share could the UK have got and of what parts?
PMN1 said:
Now, what if the UK had followed the French way and had a finger in each pie , what kind of production share could the UK have got and of what parts?

It is hard to speculate, but my more accurate short term hindsight tells me that BAE Systems should have sold its 20% stake in Airbus a few years ago.

The A300 was never very successful, and a larger A300 with the RB.207 probably wouldn't have been any more successful, although it might have suffered the same sort of delays as the L-1011 did with the early RB.211.

Airbus only became truly competitive with the coming of the A320 and A330/A340 families - before the current turmoil over the A380 fiasco.

If the UK government hadn't pulled out of Airbus, Britain might have had what amounted to a controlling minority stake (35-40%) and a final assembly line (or two?). On the other hand, a later UK government might have pulled the plug at a subsequent date. It is hard to imagine that there would have been the political resolve to keep subsidizing Airbus during the money losing years. Either way, there would have been tens of thousands of high paying jobs in the aerospace sector - at a least for a few years.

In any event, the BAE Systems is well advised to rid itself of its Airbus holdings. There is far more money to be made on defense sales in North America than in being shackled to an inefficient European enterprise that is more successful at providing employment than in generating profits!

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