Airbus Says `Brexit' Could Hurt U.K. Arm, Backs Pro-EU Vote

Behind The Scenes At The Bristol Airbus Factory

Engineers conduct a fatigue test on part of a Airbus A320 wing on a test rig at the Airbus Filton site in Bristol.

Photographer: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
  • European planemaker wouldn't quit Britain if U.K. leaves bloc
  • Company has four plants in country spanning wings to aerospace

Airbus Group SE, which relies on British facilities to design and build the wings for its commercial aircraft, told its 15,000 workers there that it “strongly” supports the U.K. remaining in the European Union and that an exit wouldn’t be helpful to its operations.

QuickTake Will Britain Leave the EU?

“Our business model is entirely based on our ability to move products, people and ideas around Europe without any restriction,” the Toulouse, France-based company’s top British management told employees in a letter Monday. “We do not believe leaving will increase the competitiveness of our British-based operations.”

The comments come as a referendum campaign pits pro-EU arguments from much of corporate Britain against public anxiety over immigration and the erosion of national sovereignty. Airbus said a so-called Brexit decision wouldn’t prompt it to leave Britain, though future investments “depend very much on the economic environment in which the company operates.”

The U.K. is one of Airbus’s four home nations along with France, Germany and Spain, and the company has four major manufacturing centers in the country. Airbus, which makes jetliners, fighter planes, helicopters, satellites and defense equipment, employs about 138,500 people worldwide, meaning Britain is home to 11 percent of the total.

Airliner wings are built in Broughton, Wales, while the Filton site in southwest England designs and tests wings, undercarriages and fuel systems. The company also has space and satellite factories in Portsmouth on the south coast and at Stevenage near London.

In defense, the Royal Air Force operates Airbus’s A400M military transport and an aerial refueling tanker based on the manufacturer’s A330 passenger aircraft, as well as the Eurofighter Typhoon combat jet, in which Airbus has a stake. London-based BAE Systems Plc used to own 20 percent of Airbus, which it sold to the company in 2006.

The Airbus letter was signed by executives including Tom Williams, chief operating officer of the jetliner arm and the company’s most senior Briton.

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