EADS calls the UK its fourth home country and - despite it having no British founding shareholders - the importance of the nation both as a market and industrial base has flourished over the decade. With almost 13,000 employees, the UK makes up some 11% of the company's total workforce (only France and Germany employ more). "We are passionate about the importance of the UK to EADS," says chief executive of EADS UK Robin Southwell, the face of the group to the government customer.

Back in 2000, EADS was essentially a foreign entity. British Aerospace had been the UK partner in the old Airbus consortium, which came into being in 1970. However, when EADS was created 30 years later, BAE Systems, as it was by then known, stayed away from the wedding, flirting instead with the US defence market. BAE retained a 20% shareholding in Airbus, but by 2006 had moved fully out the commercial aviation market, selling its stake to EADS to fund big US defence acquisitions.

Robin Southwell, EADS UK, ©EADS 
Southwell: "We are passionate about the importance of the UK to EADS". Picture: EADS
The move meant that around 10,000 Airbus staff at Broughton and Filton - most of whom identified themselves as BAE people - became EADS employees overnight. In addition, EADS considerably expanded its industrial footprint by acquiring South Wales-based secure communications specialist Cogent in 2001, relocating the company to a purpose-built campus at Newport's Celtic Springs, which it shares with a unit of EADS's Innovation Works. The two operations employ a total of 1,400 people.

Astrium facilities in Portsmouth, Stevenage and Cheshire, and a sales and support unit of Eurocopter in Oxford, also acquired from an independent distributor during the decade, make up the remainder of EADS's UK industrial footprint.

In terms of the importance of the UK market, EADS claims to be the Ministry of Defence's second biggest contractor and the largest to the Royal Air Force. Aside from its shares in Eurofighter and MBDA - which are essentially represented by partner BAE in the UK - EADS is the lead contractor on the Airtanker-supplied Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft contract to lease A330-based tankers to the air force from next year and - through its Paradigm subsidiary - operates the Skynet 5 secure communications system for the armed forces. The UK is also one of the biggest customers of the A400M airlifter.

Over the turn of the year, Southwell headed the negotiations to secure additional UK funding for the A400M, a task he says would have been "impossible" to manage from the programme headquarters in Toulouse. Although those running the various EADS businesses in the UK report through their divisions, Southwell's office, based in central London, often plays a "joining the dots" role. "We get involved when events move to a level of intensity where the divisions or programmes need additional support or when things go wrong," he says.

Meanwhile, EADS - a strange new acronym on the scene 10 years ago - has become fully accepted as part of the UK's aerospace and defence community.

"No-one in the last couple of years has asked me what EADS stands for or what is this strange French company?" says Southwell.

Source: Flight International