BAE confirms Woodford closure plans, as Nimrod conversion prospects recede

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BAE Systems has confirmed long-held plans to close its Woodford manufacturing site in Cheshire for the Nimrod MRA4 surveillance aircraft, with its announcement coming just days after the first flight of a production example for the UK Royal Air Force.

Aircraft PA4 made a 1h 40min first flight from Woodford on 10 September, and landed at Norwich airport in Norfolk, where it will be painted in RAF colours. The MRA4 will then be flown to BAE's Warton site in Lancashire for pre-delivery flight tests.

BAE will deliver the first four of nine MRA4s under contract to RAF Kinloss in Scotland before the type achieves initial operational capability in December 2010, and will fully replace the RAF's current Nimrod MR2s by 31 March 2011.

The Ministry of Defence is still considering options to convert BAE's three development examples of the new-generation Nimrod for operational use; either as additional MRA4s, or as replacements for the RAF's three Nimrod R1 electronic intelligence aircraft. A decision on the latter requirement is expected by year-end, with an acquisition of Boeing 707-based RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft also under consideration.

nimrod mra4 
© BAE Systems
The MoD has made no commitment to convert BAE's three development aircraft

Military and industry sources believe the MoD is unlikely to approve the conversion of aircraft PA1-3, and this is believed to have in part prompted BAE's announcement of 630 job losses which will be incurred when Woodford closes in late 2012.

"Despite strenuous efforts to achieve further Nimrod production work there has been none forthcoming," says BAE. "It is intended that there will a phased run-down of the [Woodford] site in line with the production programme."

BAE's Military Air Systems unit will also shed a further 486 jobs at its sites in Farnborough, Hampshire, and at Salmesbury and Warton in Lancashire. It blames the move on reduced work levels related to Airbus commercial aircraft projects and its Harrier, Hawk and Panavia Tornado business activities.