Aircraft makers warn of risk to 7,500 jobs

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AEROSPACE chiefs warned the Government yesterday that up to 7,500 jobs would be at risk if it chose to buy American rather than British when it replaces the ageing Hercules transport aircraft, writes Chris Barrie.

In a bid to prevent the Ministry of Defence placing a pounds 900m order with a consortium led by the US firm Lockheed, British Aerospace and other companies claimed their alternative, the Future Large Aircraft (FLA) project, would safeguard jobs and bring work worth at least pounds 5.5bn to British firms in orders from Europe alone. Including other export orders, business up to pounds 12.8bn could be won by British firms, the consortium claimed.

Accompanied by representatives of Rolls-Royce, the aero engine maker, and Short Brothers, Belfast's aerospace firm, Dick Evans, BAe's chief executive, claimed the Lockheed proposal to replace the Hercules with an updated version known as the C-130J would 'not do the job satisfactorily', nor was it best for the UK or Europe.

He warned that the decision was too important to be left in the hands of the Ministry of Defence because of the wider implications for the aerospace industry. If the order went to Lockheed the industry's ability to work on civil aircraft projects could be jeopardised.

He added that the number of jobs at stake was equivalent to those at large BAe sites like Filton, Bristol, and Prestwick in Scotland.

The FLA is a pan-European project backed by BAe, Aerospatiale of France, Alenia of Italy, CASA of Spain and Deutsche Aerospace Airbus of Germany.