Germany's MAN is warning it may sell or close its aerospace division unless Ariane 5 launcher orders pick up, as the space downturn continues to bite.

Unless the unit - MAN Technologie - can be saved, the Ariane 5 launcher itself would also have to go out of production, it warns.

Six Ariane 5 launches a year would support 450 of MAN Technologie's 750-strong workforce, with other aerostructures contracts supporting another 100. Even if this work rate could be achieved "there are still too many people. Certainly we will lose some, "the company says. But this would mean doubling Ariane launch rates.

Only three Arianes have flown so far this year, after four in 2002, due to the launcher's December failure and continuing weak demand for commercial satellite launch services.

As an alternative, MAN Technologieis negotiating with EADS for a greater workshare on the Ariane programme. "They still have too much production, for example of high-pressure tanks and rings. EADS should concentrate on integration work, "MAN Technologie says.

Without either more contracts or bigger workshare, MAN Technologie says it will be sold off or closed. However, no buyers have emerged and EADS say it is "definitely not interested".

If the unit closed, Ariane 5 launches would have to halt, the company says. "Our parts cannot be produced by anyone else. For example, the booster cases: there is only one machine in Europe that can make them. There is one in the USA, but I do not think they would agree."

MAN Technologie is a small part of parent company MAN, but its involvement with bankrupt airframer Fairchild Dornier and the satellite downturn meant it suffered a €39 million ($45 million) loss on sales of €189 million in 2002.

Source: Flight International