The West Factory at Airbus’ Broughton plant has been making wings for the A380 since 2003. But with the final A380 now in assembly in Toulouse, the factory has lost its purpose. Despite challenging times still lying ahead, the head of the Broughton Plant says the huge facility remains a key part of its site strategy.
Ghost factory remains part of the plan
Since 2003, the West Factory at Airbus’ Broughton site in Wales, UK, has been producing the giant wings for the A380 superjumbo. The factory, with a floor space equivalent to 12 full-size football pitches, was the largest factory to open in the UK for many decades. It supported as many as 1,200 staff at its peak, preparing the wings for transport by barge and ship to Toulouse for final assembly.
But with the final pair of wings for the last A380 ever to be built leaving the factory last year, the facility has lost its purpose. The giant space now stands a ghost factory, with no activity taking place and the machinery fallen silent.
However, Airbus Head of Broughton Plant Jerome Blandin has shone a ray of hope on the future of this factory. Speaking to Business Live, he said,
“Production in the West Factory has stopped; however A380 production as a whole continues until the second half of the year. In addition, the A380 will continue to fly with many A380 operators to be supported by Airbus so it’s important we retain a level of tooling and capability in the facility.
“The West Factory is very much a key part of our site strategy and we are actively taking the facility into account in our longer term planning.”
While there’s no word on exactly what the future of the facility will be, it’s hopeful that it won’t remain fallow for long. The A380 production line in Toulouse is planned for conversion into a high-tech final assembly line for the A320 family of aircraft. Perhaps Broughton’s West Factory could be repurposed for a similar venture.
At present, production rates for both the widebody and narrowbody Airbus jets is significantly lower than was previously planned. However, the planemaker is already laying plans to increase its output, particularly on the narrowbody side, as demand for new aircraft is projected to pick up.
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No more redundancies for Broughton
While the A380 factory has fallen quiet, with the wings for the final superjumbo already shipped off to Toulouse, it’s not the only part of Broughton that has been suffering. The downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has seen production rates for all aircraft impacted, a situation that inevitably trickles through to all parts of the supply chain.
Last year, 1,435 workers at the plant lost their jobs, and a further 400 roles were considered to be at risk. Compulsory redundancies were floated in November 2020, but were narrowly avoided thanks to the sterling efforts of the Broughton team.
Workers voted overwhelmingly in favor of a shorter working week in a bid to save those 400 jobs. In March, it was confirmed that this would mean no compulsory redundancies for any more Broughton workers. Peter Hughes, Unite Wales Regional Secretary, commented,
“For our members at Airbus Broughton this is great news following a turbulent year that has seen the plant rocked by the effects of COVID-19. The Welsh aerospace sector has been under immense pressure due to the decline in aircraft orders resulting from the pandemic.
“The workforce has remained strong and united and today’s news is hopefully the first sign that the plant is on the road to recovery”.
Although no further redundancies are planned, almost all workers are set to be furloughed for a week in June. Airbus is still reviewing optimal production levels going forward, and as such, has asked the majority of the plants 4,000 plus workers to take the week of June 7th off work. The workers will be supported by the UK government’s furlough scheme for this period.
While the future of the A380 ghost factory hangs in the balance, Broughton will always be a key part of the UK aerospace industry.