Friday, October 06, 2006

Airbus Fiasco


Elastic band power: Mr Attlee's Super-Jumbo

The A380 Super-Dumbo is doomed. The A350 is doomed. Airbus is doomed.

That much we can gather from the headlines. Severe technical discombobulations - including the French and German computer design systems being totally incompatible (see here) - have led to both new aircraft being delayed and blowing their budgets sky high. All those A380 launch customers are having to be paid squillions in compensation, and are likely to cancel anyway.

BAE has already pressed the eject button, and although they only got around half what they hoped for their 20% stake (see previous blog), at least they're out.

So why should we British taxpayers care?

Two reasons:

  1. We've already been made to stump up quite a bit of dosh for the Dumbo - £780m at the last count. And as with all Airbus projects, European taxpayers have provided generous launch-aid ($3.7bn for the A380 alone, and a cumulative $15bn since Airbus was founded), but none has yet seen anything even approximating a financial return.
  2. If the whole caboodle flies into the ground, we'll have to pick up the pieces, just as we did last year with MG Rover. In this case, there are 11,000 UK jobs directly on the line, which you can at least double for knock-ons: call it 25,000. MGR's collapse cost us £250m (see this blog), but since that "only" involved 9,000 job losses, the corresponding cost here would be well over £0.5bn.

As we've blogged before, the aircraft industry has always been a huge money-pit for taxpayers. Concorde, originally "budgeted" at £75m, ended up costing £1bn. And that was in the early 1970s: in today's terms the equivalent would be around £20bn, or nearly a grand for every household in Britain.

Our new eco-friendly politicos may be sick-making, but at least it ought to stop them subsidising any more planet and wallet destroying lunacies like this.

PS Mr Attlee's super jumbo was of course the extraordinary committee designed Brabazon. The size and weight of a small housing estate, it had a wider wingspan and a broader fuselage than a modern Boeing 747, yet carried only 100 passengers. Moreover its eight rubber band propellers would have taken 2 weeks to wind up, and needed approximately 12 days to get across the Atlantic. Not surprising that after spending £3m of taxpayers money, they decided to turn the only flying prototype into yo-yos.

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