UK defence company BAE Systems defended its decision to sell its 20% stake in aircraft builder Airbus in the face of shareholder anger today.
The company faced a barrage of questions at its annual general meeting from shareholders concerned about the security of jobs and loss of resources in science, technology and engineering as a result of the sale.
But BAE insisted that it was only ever a shareholder in Airbus and had no physical role in the company.
Chairman Dick Olver told shareholders: “We do not employ people in Airbus. Those jobs and that technology and that research is part of Airbus and I see no reason why it will not continue.”
Mr Olver added: “We have been extremely clear on our strategy for a long time. We wish to create the world’s premier transatlantic aerospace and defence business. The sale of Airbus is absolutely in line with our strategy.”
Last month, BAE said it was looking to sell its 20% stake in Airbus – thought to be worth between £3bn (€4.4bn) and £4bn (€5.8bn) – bringing an end to a 37-year partnership.
British Trade and Industry Secretary Alan Johnson has since sought to reassure the UK’s 13,000 Airbus workers in North Wales and Bristol that the government remains committed to the project.
Airbus’s UK operations include the design and manufacture of its aircraft wings.
Mr Olver’s defence of the sale came as he hailed “a very good year” for BAE in 2005, which saw profits soar 16% to £1.18bn (€1.7bn) on the back of £15.41bn (€22.4bn) of sales.
He added that the company anticipated an improved performance again this year as it continued to benefit from organic growth and the purchase of US firm United Defense. The US now contributes to almost half of BAE’s business.
Mr Olver also said BAE was continuing to look at the possible acquisition of Babcock with VT Group for £700m (€1bn) in a deal which would shake up the UK’s naval shipbuilding industry.
He said: “The takeover panel has given us until May 18 to put up or shut up. We are thinking about it along with lots of other options and we will put up or shut up by May 18.”