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Airbus says UK government must guarantee mobility to save jobs

[TOULOUSE] Airbus SE said the next UK government must guarantee the planemaker's ability to move people between plants in Britain and continental Europe in order to safeguard the long-term future of production in the country.

It's also vital for aerospace manufacturing to remain exempt from import duties once Britain quits the European Union, Airbus Chief Executive Officer Tom Enders told journalists Thursday at the company's headquarters in Toulouse, France. He spoke just as polls closed following the UK general election.

Airbus employs 15,000 people in Britain at sites including the giant Broughton plant in north Wales, which makes wings for all of the company's jets. The manufacturer also has a wing-design facility at Filton, in south-west England, as well as space and satellite factories in Portsmouth on the south coast and at Stevenage near London.

"We are a company that obviously has an interest in a free flow of people," Mr Enders said.

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"Mobility between our sites in Europe is crucial. Sending people from Toulouse to Broughton, from Broughton to Hamburg and so on, that is very important."

While the UK sites are among the most efficient in the entire group, "any tariff barriers could also potentially impact the competitiveness of our activities in Britain," the CEO warned. Mr Enders added that while he's hopeful the new British administration will understand the "huge importance" of the aerospace and defense industry to the country, there can be no certainties.

"We're not the government," he said.

"And it's the government, the new one or old one in the UK, and on the continent, and Brussels, that will have to go into what seem to me very difficult negotiations. And then we will evaluate what the outcome means for us."

Qatar Concern

Airbus campaigned openly for the UK to remain within the EU prior to last year's Brexit vote, while making clear that it didn't intend to leave Britain in the event of a victory for the "Leave" campaign.

The UK is one of Airbus's four home nations along with France, Germany and Spain, and accounts for a little more than 10 per cent of the workforce. The company makes fighter planes, helicopters, satellites and defence equipment as well as jetliners.

Mr Enders said he's concerned about the split dividing Qatar from Saudi Arabia and its allies, but doesn't see Mideast tensions holding back demand. The region has become a major market for Airbus, with three big Persian Gulf carriers plus Turkish Airlines ordering hundreds of wide-body jets to fly passengers through their inter-continental transfer hubs.

"It's a development that's troubling for our industry," Mr Enders said.

"But we are far from being overexposed in this region. We should not underestimate the core potential long term, or be blinded by momentary conflicts." About 13 per cent of Airbus's backlog is in the Middle East, according to chief salesman John Leahy, who attended the briefing.

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