GKN to buy Filton plant from Airbus

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GKN has beaten its American rival Spirit AeroSystems to win the auction for part of the massive aircraft wing facility in Filton being sold by Airbus.

EADS, parent of Airbus, said yesterday that GKN has been given preferred-bidder status for the site, along with Latcore in France and MT Aerospace in Germany for factories that the European aerospace giant is selling in those countries as part of a cost-cutting programme.

The handover will not take place until next year but the news will cheer ministers who have kept a close eye on the planned divestiture amid fears about the loss of jobs or UK technical expertise if Filton were to go to a foreign company. The choice of GKN will safeguard jobs, at least for now. The company is not expected to cut any of the 1,800 jobs in the section of the vast industrial site it will take over, which makes wing components and composites. EADS will retain control of the remainder of the site, which employs 4,000 workers in wing design, assembly and integration.

EADS and GKN will hold talks over how best to carve out the site from the rest of the Filton complex. Talks will also centre around the scale of what is expected to be a major investment programme in order to prepare for work on the composite wings of Airbus' new twin-aisle A350 XWB jumbo jet. Tom Williams, executive vice-president at Airbus, would not specify how much GKN will probably have to invest in the site but said that the announcement, along with the similar deals announced for the five sites in France and Germany, would together knock 2bn (1.4bn) off the total 10bn projected development cost of the A350.

Spirit AeroSystems, an American company that was spun off by EADS' rival Boeing, was the only other bidder to reach the final round. That worried unions and politicians after EADS chief executive Louis Gallois said recently that the company had "no choice" but to move more production into dollar-denominated zones.