Manufacturer needs contract to keep production line open

BAE Systems is urgently seeking a deal with the UK Ministry of Defence for the supply and operation of up to 30 Hawks in a bid to keep the advanced trainer production line open. As many as 1,500 jobs could be at risk.

The government has a medium-term requirement for advanced trainers as part of a Public Finance Initiative with industry to set up the Military Flying Training System (MFTS). However, a decision on the deal is up to two years away.

The company has only 12 trainers for South Africa in its order book and negotiations with India for 66 aircraft - the only potential near-term deal - are stalled. The Hawk is manufactured at Brough, north-east England, with final assembly at Warton in the north west.

BAE group managing director programmes Stephen Henwood warns that without an order in the first quarter of next year, "we will have to reduce manufacturing at Brough". The factory suffered 850 job losses last year and has been hit with the announcement ending Avro RJX regional jet production for which it built subassemblies. It employs around 2,500 people.

Ceasing Hawk production could call into question Brough's continuing status as a manufacturing site.

BAE recently announced the loss of around 1,600 jobs by ceasing RJX production at Woodford, Cheshire, and restructuring its aerostructures and maintenance businesses.

Henwood suggests bringing forward MFTS could be aided by BAE if a Hawk commitment is made. "There are alternative ways of funding, BAE has a strong balance sheet," he says. The contract length and the number of hours to be provided are "matters for discussion", and 20-30 aircraft would be needed.

The MoD says the proposal was made during informal discussions and while a decision has not been made, "it is not unreasonable" that a Hawk selection for MFTScould be made in "three to four months". It also says that it is reviewing the need to operate trainers as part of a PFI deal: "We may opt for a leasing deal."

BAE, says Henwood, believes new Hawks would improve potential Eurofighter pilot training by easing the conversion from trainer to combat aircraft compared with the jump from current UK Hawks with outdated dials and gauges.

Source: Flight International