New BAE Systems factory to get its wings

The defence firm will open its new £150m facility, which manufactures F-35 jets, today. Will this draw a line under a tough few months?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
BAE Systems will cut the ribbon at its brand spanking new manufacturing facility in Samlesbury, Lancashire today. The £150m factory will increase the defence firm’s capacity to make the fuselages of F-35 jets (as used by the US army) from one a week to one a day. Exciting stuff – let’s hope this draws a line under the annus horribilis that was 2011…

Chris Allam, the senior vice-president on the F-35 programme, was bursting with pride, proclaiming the opening ‘an exciting development. F-35 is an important programme for BAE Systems and the capabilities that this facility provides are equal to anywhere in the world. We’re using state-of-the-art machines and manufacturing techniques.’ So there you go.

It’s positive stuff, considering tough 2011 was for BAE. Still reeling from drastic cuts to defence budgets on both sides of the Atlantic, it posted figures in February which showed sales had dropped by 14% to £19.2bn, while profits fell by 7% to an EBITDA of £2bn.

It wasn’t just in the US and the UK that things went wrong: while an order from Saudi Arabia for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets was delayed; in December, the company lost out on a deal worth £5.1bn to supply jets to Japan. And a contract with the Indian Air Force is looking – well, rather up in the air, too. Word is that the government has gone for fighter jets produced by French firm Dassault instead.  

So the efficacy of the Lancashire facility will come under serious scrutiny from those at the top of BAE. If things go well, the factory will have a positive effect not just on BAE’s bottom line, but on manufacturing in the North West. As Martin Wright, chairman of the North West Aerospace Alliance, pointed out, BAE will become the ‘backbone of stability to our regional industry’. That’s quite a responsibility…

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