Airbus May Hire Engineers From Failed British Car Company
What has the collapse of a British
car company got to do with jets? Quite a lot, if Airbus Industrie
gets its way. The European commercial aircraft colossus is eyeing
the skilled engineers, draftsmen and other technical personnel
idled by the collapse of MG Rover this spring.
According to the Financial Times, Airbus has already hired some
technical staff that were willing to relocate (they do much of
their wing design and development in Filton in the southwest of
England, and manufacturing at Broughton in Wales, while the car
maker was in Birmingham in the industrial Midlands). But the MG
Rover failure has left behind such a pool of underutilized talent
that Airbus is seriously thinking of opening a new design center
The paper explains that Airbus needs engineering help badly. The
company is certifying the A380, developing the freighter version,
pushing ahead with its A400M military transport, and designing the
MG Rover was the complete corporate converse of the high-flying
Airbus, a European flagship firm. Britain's last independent
carmaker was spun off by BMW to a syndicate of Britons in 2001, but
never broke even. As its fiscal troubles grew, a Chinese company
that had been in joint venture talks withdrew, pulling the last
prop out from under the 100-year-old company and idling 6,000
A big loser was BMW, which was left
holding a worthless note for over half a billion dollars. Shanghai
Automotive's fear of winding up on the hook to pay back this
massive, albeit interest-free loan, was a major factor kept the
Asian manufacturer from forming a joint venture with MG Rover.
The MG Rover collapse hurt Tony Blair's Labour in elections,
although not enough for his government to fall. So an Airbus design
office in the unemployment-ridden Midlands, which would be a highly
visible success story in a depressed area, has some political
ramifications as well.
Another factor favoring the British
site, although one that has not been stated publicly, is that
British workers are more productive than those in other major
Airbus engineering sites such as Germany or France. In general,
Britons work longer hours and expect fewer weeks of vacation than
their Continental peers.
Airbus already employs over 13,000 in Britain, of whom 2,000 are
in engineering. It had already been trying to hire 200 more
engineers in the UK before the bankruptcy of MG Rover created this
new opportunity. The company sees the projected Midlands design
center as employing 100 engineers, mostly in systems development
work. In the long term, the center may grow, and even conduct
contract engineering work for non-Airbus customers.
The possibilities for jokes are just about endless, especially
for anyone who has ever experienced that peculiar love/hate
relationship that comes with owning a British car. Yep, here's a
chance to dust off all those "Lucas: Prince of Darkness" jokes and
sketches of light switches that allow you to choose among: "on,
off, flicker." That'll be wasted on Americans below a certain age,
who don't remember when British cars were the #2 imports in the
USA, and a drive in one usually involved some combination of
getting wet, extinguishing a fire, and being stranded.
But the disciplines of auto and aircraft design are not as much
at variance as you might think. Indeed, as automakers have become
more sophisticated, many of their business processes, design
imperatives like low weight and drag, materials and methods have
converged with those used in aeronautical design.
In the United States, many engineers who work in aerospace are
members of the Society of Automotive Engineers and present papers
to that organization. The systems work that Airbus sees taking
place in its new center is particularly accessible to engineers who
have been at work in the auto industry.