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Spirit could buy Airbus factories - papers

Spirit AeroSystems is on the verge of acquiring four Airbus aircraft plants in Germany and England, according to reports from several European newspapers.

Airbus chief Thomas Enders said the company could decide by Friday to sell three plants in Germany and one in Britain to Spirit AeroSystems, Reuters reported, citing Saturday’s Internet edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. The Airbus plants are at Varel, Nordenham and Augsburg in Germany and Filton in Britain. Spirit spokeswoman Debbie Gann said Monday that the company wouldn’t comment on the story. Airbus has not commented on the reports. Union members at the British factory, near Bristol, were to meet on Monday to discuss the sale, according to the Bristol Evening Post. The plant in Filton manages the design of wings for all Airbus models. Union members at the plant fear that Spirit could cut as many as 600 jobs and move work to the United States to save money, the Bristol paper reported.

The value of the US dollar has fallen sharply against the British pound and the euro since 2002, making European factories less competitive. Airbus jets are priced in dollars, but most costs are priced in euros or pounds, squeezing profits as the dollar has fallen against those currencies. Britain’s GKN is also in the running for the Filton plant. But Airbus favors Spirit because it wants all four plants and because of Spirit’s expertise in carbon fiber technology, which is important for the construction of future plane models, the German paper said. Although Spirit bought the former BAE Systems’ aerostructures plants in Britain last year, the sale of Filton to an American company instead of the British GKN could raise political concerns about the government’s commitment to a British aerospace industry, according to a Sunday story in the Daily Telegraph of London.

Under the agreement, the investor will spend $200 million at Filton to build a new center of excellence to build wings from new lightweight composite materials. The first wings built at the factory will be for Airbus’ next aircraft, the long-haul A350, which will enter service in 2013. Airbus has been looking for a partner to buy into the wing manufacturing section to cut costs. (