Coronavirus: Wales’ aviation sector needs ‘major intervention’

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British Airways’s maintenance facility at Rhoose services the company’s long-haul fleet of planes.

Wales’ aviation industry needs intervention on a “major scale” from the UK government, according to Wales’ Economy Minister Ken Skates.

Mr Skates said only Downing Street had the “firepower” to help a sector which had taken “an absolute battering” during the pandemic.

It comes as British Airways starts a consultation on 399 redundancies at its three south Wales sites.

The UK government said there was an “unprecedented package of measures”.

Experts have warned 8,000 aerospace jobs in Wales could go because of the fall in airline passenger numbers and that the sector “may never recover”.

Jobs are also at risk at General Electric’s 1,400-worker site at Nantgarw, near Caerphilly, and at Airbus’ factory in Broughton on Deeside

While BA does not fly from Wales, it employs about 900 maintenance and engineering staff at the Welsh sites.

It maintains its long-haul fleet at Cardiff Airport, has an interiors factory in Blackwood, Caerphilly county and an Avionics Services site in Llantrisant in Rhonnda Cynon Taff.

“It’s only the UK government that has the firepower to be able to intervene on such a major scale as to support the likes of Airbus and GE Aviation, and others who employ tens of thousands of people,” Mr Skates said.

“And if they are to emerge with any strength whatsoever, they will require government support.”

BA’s parent company IAG – one of the world’s biggest airline companies, which also owns Spanish airline Iberia and Ireland’s Aer Lingus – had warned it was to cut 12,000 jobs from its 42,000-strong workforce due to the crisis.

Although redundancies could be seen across the three BA sites in south Wales, the remaining jobs might all be based at the maintenance facility at Cardiff Airport in Rhoose.

That would leave an uncertain future for the plants at Blackwood and Llantrisant.

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The Prince of Wales and BA chief executive Alex Cruz were given a tour of the British Airways Maintenance Centre in Rhoose in February

Last week, the CEO of trade body Aerospace Wales told MPs the aerospace industry in Wales could lose up to 8,000 jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Giving evidence to the Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee, John Whalley said the industry “may never recover to the levels we had”.

Plaid Cymru has called for the UK and Welsh governments to prioritise support for workers when responding to the struggles the airline industry are facing.

“Just like in any other industries, support for workers who are at risk needs to be the priority for the airline industry; and further questions need to be asked around ‘covid-proofing’ companies,” its economy spokeswoman, Member of the Senedd Helen Mary Jones said.

The UK government said it recognised the announcement of the threat to jobs was “very distressing news for BA employees and their families” and added that it stood ready to support them.

“The aviation sector is essential to the UK economy, and firms can draw upon the unprecedented package of measures, including schemes to raise capital, flexibilities with tax bills, and financial support for employees,” a spokesman said.

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