Page last updated at 10:54 GMT, Sunday, 20 July 2008 11:54 UK

Airshow profits West businesses

Dave Harvey
BBC West Business Correspondent

The figures are staggering - 256 aircraft were ordered at the Farnborough International Airshow, worth a total of $40.5bn to the European plane maker Airbus.

Behind the headline figure lies an intricate web of suppliers who will spread this money to the corners of Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

Man holding business cards
Mr Hitchings traded business cards with more than 100 potential customers

One of those suppliers is Tom Hitchings, of Tods Aerospace in Somerset.

"One hundred and fifty people working in Crewkerne, Somerset, making parts for Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier," Mr Hitchings explains to a potential customer.

"Almost every time you get on a plane you're walking on something we made."

He brandishes pieces of carbon fibre taken from a Cathay Pacific 777, and shows me a flap used on the new Airbus military transport plane, the A400M.

He has been doing this all week and he has traded more than 100 business cards with potential buyers.

Next door is a man holding a very shiny steel ball. It looks like chrome, but chrome is so 20th Century.

"This is a new cobalt alloy we use which is longer lasting, cleaner and kinder on the environment than chrome", explains Phil Hillinger, sales manager for Deloro Stellite.

"There are four of these bearings on the A380, and they're all covered in this unique finish. And we make it from scratch in Swindon."

Meeting these men makes me understand something new.

Every time Airbus sell a plane, people in Swindon, Crewkerne and across the West Country punch the air.

Airbus
Airbus sold 10 passenger jets to the Gulf airline Etihad

These are tough times for industry. Oil is soaring, China and India are stealing work, the credit crunch is damping down spending - so who is buying all the planes?

Airbus sold 10 of the giant A380 passenger jets at Farnborough, to the Gulf airline Etihad.

Of the 256 orders, 155 went either to Etihad or another Gulf firm, Dubai Aerospace Enterprise. As the price of oil soars, it pays to sell to Arabs.

The other big customers at Farnborough this year were Indian and Chinese airlines.

The explosion of these two countries' economies is causing most British firms grief, but not Airbus.

"We can't sit here in Western Europe and say these countries shouldn't develop", insists John Leahy, Airbus' chief commercial officer.

"They're going to develop anyway, and over the next decade air travel will double."

So Airbus profits from the two factors giving UK Plc a headache at the moment: rising oil prices and 'ChIndia'.

And in a small industrial unit in Crewkerne, they will be raising a glass of Somerset Cider to that.

"Whenever Airbus sells a plane, we all benefit," smiles Mr Tom Hitchings, "we don't mind who they sell them to."


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