British aerospace industry puts a brave face on Brexit

At Paris Air Show last month, the UK aerospace sector gathered at the UK ambassador’s residence. There was a notable shift in attitude since a year ago and a sense of optimism about what’s ahead for the industry.

At Paris Air Show last month, the UK aerospace sector gathered at the UK Ambassador’s residence. There was a notable shift in attitude since a year ago and a sense of optimism about what’s ahead for the industry.

Last summer, Airbus warned it could be forced to move its UK operations elsewhere in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

In Paris, Katherine Bennett CBE, Senior Vice President, Airbus, told FINN: “I think the change in emphasis is more the fact that a lot of big companies like mine have had to spend a lot of money on getting ready.

"Maybe our risk concern has lessened a bit because we are ready for a potential no deal.”

She added: “But that doesn't take away from the fact that we are hugely concerned about the implications of a ‘no deal’. It’s not just companies like ours; it's the supply chain as well and making sure they're ready,” she said. “We have thousands of parts that cross over the borders every day. The last thing I want is chaos at the borders [meaning we can’t] deliver wings to continental Europe.”

Assurances

Thibaut de Bouillane, Director, Flitetec, concurred on preparations: “We have been very busy assuring our international customers that it's business as usual,” he said. “We have sorted out, as a country, the approvals for the parts we make and release for our customers. And therefore really now our customers are confident that they can carry on trading with Britain regardless.”

Chris Gane, Business Specialist, Aerospace, at the UK Department for International Trade, noted the strength of the UK’s partnerships with companies such as Boeing: “We've always been seen as a very strong nation from an aerospace point of view,” Gane said. “We've got the Aerospace Technology Institute putting a great amount of R&D into the UK.

“And if you actually look at the number of suppliers which Boeing is dealing with in the UK, compared to France, Italy, Germany, we probably have three or four times as many suppliers into Boeing than they have.”

Uncertainty

Isabelle Umugwaneza Managing Director, Rwanda Airports, said countries such as hers would still look to Britain as a partner.

“Britain has a very long history of aviation and a lot of very reputable companies,” she said, noting that: “Even though there is change in trade and politics, I think that expertise and that quality of product isn't going to change overnight.”

“We see Britain as a potential partner, just like anyone else who has a wealth of expertise to offer us,” she said.

Rachael Blackburn, Aerospace Wales, confirmed that: “At the moment, we're not seeing any downturn in the economy.”

“Obviously, there's uncertainty,” she commented. “We just don't know what's happening with Brexit and other economic conditions but on the whole, it's still positive at the moment.”

Slowdown

Britain is due to leave the European Union on October 31, 2019, although the terms of the departure are yet to be finalised.

Last month, UK aerospace and defence trade body ADS said it is seeing a slowdown in the UK’s supply chain activity and investment as a result of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

Investment in UK research and development declined by around 20% in 2017, according to ADS.

"Large businesses made it clear that they avoided investment in the UK," said ADS Chief Executive, Paul Everitt.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, ADS warns of a "slow and steady erosion of competitiveness" for UK manufacturers, with major investments for future programmes being directed to other locations.

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