Airbus could look outside the UK when it is time to manufacture wings for the next generation of narrowbody aircraft unless the country makes further investment in its composite capabilities. And, warns a trade body, such a move could slash the UK's estimated 17% share of the global civil aerospace industry.

Ian Godden, chief executive of the Society of British Aerospace Companies, is concerned that the UK's global aerospace market sharecould fall to levels held by its pharmaceutical industry (13%) or even automotive industry (4%).

"Unless we invest in the technology and unless we get the industry and political scene to make sure that wings are still part of our future, we're down the slippery slope," Godden warned during the launch of the association's annual survey of the UK aerospace industry and itsUK Civil Aerospace Strategy Report.

Cancellation of the UK's Airbus A400Macquisition contract would also be damaging to composite capabilities, in the SBAC's view. Godden notes the time gap between launch of the A350 programme, now underway, and the launch of the A320 replacement (dubbed the A30X), which is unlikely before the end of the next decade."That gap, in terms of production and engineering, is best filled by the A400M," he says.

Without that workthe UK could be overtaken by Germany or Spain, warns Godden, who is calling for greater government support.

The SBAC's reportasserts that since 2003 "there has been a continuing erosion of the UK's manufacturing role on Airbus wings", citing the allocation of A350 wing covers to Airbus plants in Stade, Germany and Illescas, Spain, and that of A400M covers to Stade.

However, as noted by the SBAC's strategy report, a National Aerospace Technology Strategy (agreed by industry and the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform) is in place. It includes the£100 million ($164 million), Airbus-led Next Generation Composite Wingproject involving 17 UK research organisations and companies, including GKN.

Meanwhile, the SBAC's annual industry survey found that R&D expenditure fell 32.2% in 2008, to £1.83 billion. The extent of this decline "was not fully anticipated", says Godden. Among the survey's other findings were a 0.85% increase in revenue, a 1.3% drop in civil sales, a 3.1% rise in defence sales and an 11.1% reduction in workforce numbers.

Source: Flight International