Airbus chief executive Tom Enders last night launched a blistering attack on "protectionism" in the aerospace and aviation industries, linking the election of US president Donald Trump and the 2016 UK vote to leave the European Union as moves that could damage free trade and aircraft manufacturing on both sides of the Atlantic.
Speaking at the annual dinner of UK industry organisation ADS in London on 15 January, Enders also said that Brexit would "not strengthen but weaken UK aerospace", and that departure from the EU would "inevitably strain the industrial links" between the UK and Europe as well as "curtail competitiveness".
He predicts that "the net result of Brexit will be negative".
Enders' views on the risks of Brexit are well known, and Airbus in the UK – as well as ADS – campaigned hard on the "Remain" side in the referendum. However, the passion and directness of the industrialist's address surprised many in the audience, which included a number of government ministers and senior civil servants – normally, keynote speakers at the event mix wit with political points.
After apologising for "being German and so not good at humour", he began by saying that he was "very concerned by the rise of protectionism" in the UK and the USA. While noting that the UK remained very much the "fourth home nation" for Airbus alongside France, Germany and Spain, and had been integral to the success of the aircraft manufacturer, he said that "our loyalty is not to any country but to global competitiveness".
Protectionism, he says, "has been bubbling below the surface for 10 years". Referring to the current Boeing-backed US Department of Justice bid to overturn the sale of Bombardier CSeries aircraft to Delta Air Lines, Enders asserts: "We have a US administration that is no longer fighting for free trade. Our competitor is ruthlessly surfing on this wave. But this strategy will be self-defeating."
Responding to Enders' comments, Boeing states that it "believes in strong competition, rules-based trade and a level playing-field for all in the industry".
The US airframer adds: "Competitors must abide by the rules that everyone has agreed will govern the competition. Those who don't abide by the rules are the ones that are 'taking advantage' and harming the wider industry."
Enders is set to leave Airbus in April next year after seven years in charge. Prior to heading the group he ran Airbus's commercial division and, before that, was joint chief executive of the then-EADS.