Airbus and Brexit

Minor Prediction: Airbus will make a major announcement about Brexit in the next six to eight weeks: they have purchased property outside of the United Kingdom to build a brand-new wing production facility. This will likely cause significant turmoil, and a revision to the Chequers agreement.

Why: All of Airbus’s wings are built in the United Kingdom (the A320/A330/A350/A380 are built in the Filton area, with the A220 built in Northern Ireland). Critically, all of these wings are built under an EU production certificate. If the UK leaves the EU without any sort of agreement in place which explains under what regulatory regime the wings are produced, these are uncertified airplane parts, and can’t be installed on a commercial airplane (EASA-certified).

This is a risk that Airbus simply cannot operate under. The customs issues around shipping a wingset from a post-Brexit UK to the EU pale in comparison to the challenges around installing airplane parts built without a certified production system. It’s been a while since I’ve dealt with certification concerns, but there’s a real chance that parts built in a post-hard-Brexit UK simply can’t be put on production airplanes.

It’s not going to be cheap to build a new wing facility, but the alternative is far, far worse. These are boring, unsexy issues. But they are the hard, important, and difficult issues around Brexit. That this has not even been discussed is evidence of the fundamental incompetence of the current UK leadership.