Firm's vital role in getting A380 off the ground

The new Airbus A380 is the biggest passenger plane ever built. Picture courtesy BAE SYSTEMS
The new Airbus A380 is the biggest passenger plane ever built. Picture courtesy BAE SYSTEMS

THE GIANT Airbus A380 is taking off with hi-tech components designed and made in Kent.

More than a dozen people in Rochester and Sittingbourne have been involved in creating world-beating fuel systems for the revolutionary super-jumbo, the largest passenger plane ever built.

The double-decker aircraft was rolled out of the Toulouse factory in France on Tuesday in front of an audience of 5,000, including Prime Minister Tony Blair and engineers from Medway.

Described as a British manufacturing success story, the giant of the skies can carry more than 800 passengers and is a tribute to around 400 firms across the country, including many from the South East.

In total, Airbus will be worth around £15bn to the British economy and sustain 22,000 jobs, some in Kent.

Aeromet International, with plants at Eurolink Way, Sittingbourne, and Laker Road Airport Industrial Estate, Rochester, has been closely involved in the project for the past 18 months.

The Rochester plant has been making parts for Airbus aircraft since the company was founded some 30 years ago.

Sixteen people out of a total workforce of 80 at Rochester have been working full-time on the A380, and a few attended the ceremony in Toulouse. Several are also working on the project in Sittingbourne, where a total of 65 are employed.

Alan Prentice, site director, said: "We make fuel systems for all that range of aircraft which we supply out of our Rochester plant fully machined, inspected and painted for direct assembly onto the wings."

Aeromet, which also supplies components to Boeing, Rolls Royce and other leading manufacturers, has been chosen as one of only six companies worldwide approved to make these fuel systems. It delivered the parts for the A380 unveiled in France as long ago as September.

Mr Prentice said: "We have already delivered up to aircraft number eight so they are building them at almost one a month."

The company is making around 140 components for each A380. "The wings are essentially flying fuel tanks and there are lots of pipes that constantly pump the fuel around to keep the aircraft trim, and we manufacture all those fuel systems."

Mr Prentice paid tribute to his engineering team. "It's a tribute to the expertise of the design and production people at Rochester who have been working on these projects for many years and are world leaders."

The taxpayer has pumped £530m into the world's biggest aviation project, with a further £250m going to Rolls Royce to help develop the Trent 900 engines that will power the 580-ton machine.

Airbus needs to sell at least 250 of the four-engined aircraft to recoup its investment, and already has orders for around 150.

French president Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Shroder and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero also attended the ceremony in Toulouse.

Industry minister Jacqui Smith congratulated the firms involved in the project, saying that workers should be proud of their achievement.

She said: "They are clear evidence that UK modern hi-tech manufacturing is still a world beater.

"The Airbus A380 is a visionary project and I'm proud of the role the South East has played in its construction, the development and production of the plane."

The A380 is a bold gamble by its Anglo-French developers. They are convinced that a large enough market exists for a big plane, while rival Boeing believes the future lies with smaller aircraft like its 7E7 Dreamliner.

But so far, the gamble appears to be paying off, with orders from a number of airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, Singapore, Qantas, Air France, Lufthansa, Malaysia and Emirates, and growing interest from other airlines such as Air China, China Southern and Cathay Pacific.

The A380 will be configured in different ways by different airlines, with some opting for 550 seats or fewer.

Overall, each plane will offer more space for passengers, with the likelihood of a shop replacing the inconvenience of a duty free trolley blocking the aisles.

The aircraft has been designed to reduce environmental impact, with 13 per cent less fuel burn than its closest competitor. According to the Department of Trade and Industry, it consumes less than three litres of fuel per passenger over 100km - a fuel burn comparable to a modern diesel car.

The first test flight it due to take place in April with the first A380 expected to enter service in 2006.

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