The UK's lack of experience in the production of large composite structures may see it lose key work on the Airbus A350 XWB to sister divisions in Germany and Spain, warns a senior Airbus executive.
Under the plan for the old A350, Airbus UK was expecting to produce the large carbonfibre sections for the wing and work had begun on the installation of a large autoclave at the Bristol Filton site. That plan is now on hold as part of the evaluation of Airbus work distribution for the XWB, but Airbus UK still aims to produce the composite rear spar and bottom wing "cover" (or skin) for the new twinjet.
Airbus executive vice-president programmes Tom Williams says that the UK's relative lack of experience in composites means that there is now "a risk, without a doubt" that the work could go elsewhere.
Williams, a former head of Airbus's UK factories, says that the "industrial discussion" currently under way over the production plan for the A350 is evaluating "what the risk is if the work is placed in the UK - could they be ready in the required timescale?"
Although Airbus UK is the manufacturer's centre of excellence for wing design and manufacture, it is the plants in Germany and Spain that are formally recognised as the composite production experts within the company. "The UK does not have much experience in the production of composite primary structures," says Williams. "Why should that capability be duplicated in the UK if it already exists elsewhere?"
A decision on distribution of the A350 work packages across Airbus's European divisions is due to be made in February, after management has undertaken consultations with company works councils and employees.
Meanwhile, Italy's Finmeccanica - whose Alenia Aeronautica division is already producing large composite structures for the Boeing 787 - could be set to take a 10% stake in the A350 programme.
The company has a 4.5% stake in the A380, and president and chief executive Pier Francesco Guarguaglini says that the Italian group is willing to reach an agreement with Airbus for a larger role on the A350, with financial sources suggesting that it is aiming for around 10%.