Airbus to move Galileo work out of UK because of Brexit

Airbus will move all its work on the Galileo sat-nav system from the UK to its factories in France and Germany because of Brexit, one of the company’s top executives announced today.

European Space Agency (ESA) rules stipulate that all bids for contract work - including those for joint international projects such as Galileo - must come from EU-based companies.

Addressing members of Parliament’s Brexit committee this morning, Colin Paynter said work to fulfil a potential €200m contract could not be carried out in the UK because ESA had stipulated that it would not consider any bids by companies that were not “EU-based”.

Paynter said: “We’ve been leading the ground control system for this programme for over ten years. That controls the full constellation of 26 satellites.

“Now, there’s a round of competitive bids going on at the moment and one of the conditions in that bid documentation from ESA is that all work has to be led by an EU-based company from March 2019.”

He added: “Effectively, that means that for Airbus to bid and win that work, we will effectively novate all of the work from the UK to our factories in France and Germany from day one of that contract.”

The Galileo project has become something of a political football in recent months, with the European Commission (which oversees the programme) seeking to cut the UK out of the most beneficial types of access - despite Britain having paid its share of funding for the project from the start.

UK Chancellor Philip Hammond has reportedly retaliated by threatening to “sabotage” Galileo by blocking tech transfers between the UK and European countries involved in the space endeavour. The UK government is reportedly considering the development of a British alternative to Galileo if Brussels prevents further UK involvement. It may also seek to take legal action to try and resolve the row.

One ex-pat Brit, who has been involved at a senior level in Galileo since the project’s inception, told E&T: “The funding at that time [2001] was 50 per cent EU and 50 per cent ESA and the UK was - and is still - a fully paid-up member of ESA, so although the running of the programme is now entrusted to the EU... there is no valid reason to exclude the UK from Galileo and access to the Public Regulated Service signal after Brexit.”

He added: “Overall, the UK’s financial contribution to Galileo was and is more than significant.”

Asked about the possibility of the UK starting its own ‘clone’ of Galileo, Paynter told MPs: “It’s not up to industry to determine whether there’s a requirement or need for an independent UK system – we’re a supplier – [but] I would say that I think in terms of feasibility, after such a long and deep involvement in the Galileo programme as UK industry, we have all the skills and capabilities that are needed to support that programme should it come to it.”

He added: “We support the government’s line, which is: ‘Plan A is to remain a full collaborative partner of Galileo’.”

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