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Boeing to Open Its First European Plant in Post-Brexit UK

Boeing's 25,000 square-foot manufacturing plant will initially employ 30 people, with recruitment starting next year.

Boeing Co. (IW 500/9) plans to open its first ever European factory in Sheffield, northern England -- delivering a vote of confidence in the U.K.’s manufacturing capabilities as the country prepares to exit the European Union.

The 20 million-pound (US$25 million) facility will supply parts for Boeing’s 737 short-haul workhorse and the 777 wide-body, specializing in actuation systems that extend and retract an aircraft’s wing flaps in different phases of flight.

The move advances Boeing’s plans to increase in-house manufacturing of actuator components in order to boost production efficiency, enhance quality control and reduce supply-chain costs, the U.S. company said in a statement Friday. The 25,000 square-foot plant will initially employ 30 people, with recruitment starting next year.

“Our decision to start manufacturing high-value components in the U.K. is a step-change in our engagement and a further example of Boeing’s commitment to grow here,” Boeing Europe President Michael Arthur said in the release.

The Chicago-based company’s arch-rival Airbus Group SE focuses its entire wing-building operation on the U.K., with design and some manufacturing undertaken at Filton, near Bristol, where 4,000 people are employed, and wing assembly performed at Broughton, Wales, which has more than 6,000 workers.

The Boeing plant will be located alongside Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, where McLaren Automotive Ltd. said this month it will relocate chassis production from Austria in 2019 following the construction of a 50 million-pound factory. That move that will reduce the U.K. supercar maker’s exposure to potential tariffs on parts after Brexit.

While many British manufacturers, including automakers, face the threat of increased cross-border duties in the event of the U.K. leaving the EU customs union, aerospace companies are exempt under World Trade Organization rules. There’s still concern that parts may be held up by more rigorous border checks and engineer shortages exacerbated as immigration controls tighten.

While Boeing employs 2,000 people in Britain, they’re all in non-manufacturing roles spanning training, sales and services, including maintenance work focused chiefly on defense platforms such as the Chinook helicopter.

The Sheffield site will work closely with Boeing’s Portland, Ore., facility, which specializes in complex machining, gear systems and flight controls and which will manufacture other components and assemble the actuator systems before they’re dispatched to the company’s Seattle-area production lines.

By Christopher Jasper

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