Airbus has warned it would have to consider its position in the UK without imminent clarity over customs rules after Brexit.
The European aerospace manufacturer said it would soon have to decide whether to start stockpiling parts to avoid border delays, adding costs that could make its British operations uncompetitive.
Catherine Bennett, senior vice-president for Airbus in the UK, said that despite some welcome assurances from government over Brexit, the firm feared that customs and paperwork would delay its manufacturing process.
Airbus employs about 15,000 in the UK and moves parts between other EU countries and wing-making operations at Broughton in north Wales and Filton, near Bristol.
Bennett said: “It’s critical for our business to ensure that the wings that we build in Broughton and in Filton can get to France and Germany for the final assembly line.”
Bennett said that Airbus spends about £5bn each year on the UK supply chain. “It’s really important that the parts don’t get held up in warehouses. We have a very just-in-time delivery system.”
She told the BBC Today programme that a three-hour wait on a lorry at Dover “would be a critically bad issue for Airbus”, as would be delaying cargo flights carrying completed wings to Europe.
While she welcomed the announcement in Theresa May’s Mansion House speech that Britain intended to remain a member of EASA, the air safety certification agency, Bennett warned that customs remained “pretty critical for us” and said that Airbus very soon “will have to press a button on a decision on stockpiling parts”.
She added: “It would be very expensive for us and a burden we don’t want to be suffering. Our key preference is for the UK to remain a home nation for Airbus. But we really need the conditions for us to be effective. We don’t want extra costs on our UK business which may make Airbus think differently about us.”
Meanwhile, Airbus management is to meet unions on Wednesday to discuss potential job losses as it slows the rate of production on two of its flagship aircraft, the A380 superjumbo and the troubled A400M military transporter.
A deal on the A380 with Emirates airline guaranteed production until the mid-2020s, but Airbus will reduce its output from 12 planes per year to just eight in 2019 and six in 2020.
In a statement, Airbus said leaks to the media over the slowdowns had “resulted in excessive reporting about alleged job cuts in its four home countries”.
According to one report in the French business press, up to 3,600 jobs could be affected.
An Airbus spokesman said that an increased rate of production on the A320 and A350 models should mean no jobs would be lost in the UK.