Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Monday, 5 January 2009

Plane builder's new era takes off

By Dave Harvey
Business Correspondent, BBC West

Ron Foote
Ron Foote has been making aeroplanes at Filton since 1973

Ron Foote has a new uniform. It is grey, with a simple three-letter logo on the back - GKN.

It marks a new chapter in plane making in South Gloucestershire and if you want to read the whole history, just look in Ron's cupboard.

He has worked in Filton, making aeroplanes, since 1973.

"British Aircraft Corporation - that was the first", he recalls. "Then there was British Aerospace uniform, then BAe Systems, then Airbus of course - and now GKN."

Some 1,500 of Ron's colleagues have now transferred to GKN, as the British engineering firm takes over the aircraft manufacturing plant at Filton near Bristol.

Airbus made it pretty clear that they would not put any more money in, and now GKN have come forward with the cash, so we're happy

Mark Thomas, Unite

No numbers have been disclosed, but the deal is reported to be worth 300m. New uniforms are just the start of it.

"Filton's had a turbulent time of it", said Phil Swash, the new boss.

He is Chief Executive of GKN's European Aerostructures Group and he is moving to Filton.

"We are making Filton the cornerstone of our European operation, and we are making a substantial investment here," he said.

Again, no numbers are public, but a few miles from today's factory, GKN are working on tomorrow's.

The future of aerospace is carbon fibre, and Airbus designers lead the world in carbon fibre wing design.

But Airbus decided to build those wings in Spain and Germany, leaving Filton to wither on the vine making metallic wings.

Enter GKN. The company has not just bought the factories and the workforce, they have bought the business. They are fitting out a state-of-the-art carbon fibre factory at Easter Compton.

When it opens, we are told, they will have guaranteed work on the new A350 aircraft for Airbus. It is called "risk-sharing" in the industry, and they say it is a win-win situation.

"I've never seen such a level of investment", said Mike Pullin, who works on the A330 planes. "It looks really promising."

Old planes

Even the unions agree. Initially, there were concerns that the famous Filton site would be neglected, but now they have been won round.

Mark Thomas has been handling the negotiations for union, Unite.

"Airbus made it pretty clear that they would not put any more money in, and now GKN have come forward with the cash, so we're happy," he said.

Walk around the hangers at Filton, and you can smell the old planes. The Brabazon, the Concord, you name it, they made it.

Will the next chapter of aviation history be made here too, with a new name on it?

Ron Foote's GKN uniform is starched and clean at the moment, but as I left he smiled.

"Time to get some grease on these overalls, I think boys!"

Print Sponsor

GKN to unveil plans for Airbus
05 Jan 09 |  Bristol

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