American aerospace firm Spirit is thought to have won the battle to buy four European factories owned by Airbus, including a UK plant near Bristol.
Union members at the British factory, at Filton, were due to hold a meeting today to discuss the sale, ahead of what is expected to be an imminent announcement by Airbus´ parent company, Franco-German EADS. Unions fear job losses at the site, where around 4,500 people work on wing design for Airbus aircraft.
Britain´s GKN is also interested in buying Filton, but while Airbus sources insist that no final agreement has been signed, Spirit remains frontrunner because it wants all four European plants. The other factories are in Germany, at Augsburg, Nordenham and Varung. The chief executive of EADS, Louis Gallois, said earlier this month that the aerospace giant had "no choice" but to shift some production by Airbus to dollar-based zones to soften the financial impact of a soaring euro.
Airbus sells its planes in dollars but its costs are in the European single currency. With the dollar steadily depreciating against the euro, Airbus earnings have plummeted. But unions fear that, because of this exchange rate issue, it would make sense for Spirit to keep as much work as possible at its sites in the US.
Spirit, a specialist in carbon fibre technology, already has operations in the UK, including at Prestwick, Scotland, where it bought the BAE Systems aero-structures business last year.
Airbus plans to shed 10,000 jobs and sell a total of six factories as part of its "Power8" restructuring plan, which was prompted by severe problems encountered with its A380 superjumbo jet programme.