Ministers announced £17m worth of funding yesterday aimed at making aircraft more fuel-efficient amid growing criticism of the Government's environmental policies in the wake of the Chancellor's pre-Budget report.
The announcement of the new financial backing emerges before an official "progress report" on the 2003 White Paper on aviation which will argue that the Government's predictions on the demand for air travel are on target.
However, critics will point out that without the major terrorist attacks in New York and London the predictions would have been much too conservative. Green activists have also argued that the Chancellor's increase in air passenger duty from £5 to £10 for most journeys will have a minimal impact on the demand for air travel.
The scheme announced yesterday, worth a total of £34m, is led by Airbus but brings together leading companies, universities and engineers, backed by government bodies across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It will focus on the design of more efficient wings aimed at reducing fuel consumption, emissions and noise.
Alistair Darling, the Trade and Industry Secretary, launched the first phase of the so-called "Integrated Wing" programme at the Airbus factory in Broughton, North Wales. The plant employs about 7,000 people making aircraft wings, including for the A380, the world's largest airliner. Another 50 jobs are being created at the company's factory at Filton in south Gloucestershire.
Employees' confidence has been undermined recently after news that EADS, the Airbus parent, plans to outsource half the work on its latest plane, the A350. Louis Gallois, the Airbus chief executive, has also refused to confirm that the wings of the A350 would be made at Broughton.
Announcing the "Integrated Wing" project alongside M. Gallois and the Welsh First Secretary Rhodri Morgan, Mr Darling said: "British excellence in aerospace design, development and delivery is world renowned. This project looks to the future of aircraft design and brings together our best from the drawing board to the factory floor. By being smart and working as one - from wings to landing gear, fuel systems to electronics - we can lead.
"Innovation and creativity like this are crucial if we are to win in the global economy. It means Britain leading the drive for greener aerospace technology. More efficient, less emissions. That is what this project aims to deliver."
M. Gallois said the initiative was in line with the objective of establishing Britain as the leader in aircraft wing technology.
Gordon McConnell, head of engineering at Airbus, said the project would provide a platform for future innovative aircraft designs.