Aerospace industry in the United Kingdom

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The aerospace industry of the United Kingdom is the second- or third-largest national aerospace industry in the world, depending upon the method of measurement.[1][2] The industry employs around 113,000 people directly and around 276,000 indirectly and has an annual turnover of around £25 billion.[1][3]

Domestic companies with a large presence in the British aerospace industry include BAE Systems (the world's third-largest defence contractor),[4][5] Britten-Norman, Cobham, GKN, Meggitt, QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce (the world's second-largest aircraft engine maker)[6] and Ultra Electronics. Overseas companies with a major presence include Boeing, Bombardier, Airbus Group (including its Airbus, Astrium, Cassidian and Surrey Satellite Technology subsidiaries), Finmeccanica (including its AgustaWestland, and Selex ES subsidiaries), General Electric (including its GE Aviation Systems subsidiary), Lockheed Martin, MBDA (37.5% owned by BAE Systems), Safran (including its Messier-Dowty and Turbomeca subsidiaries) and Thales Group (including its UK-based Thales Air Defence, Thales Avionics and Thales Optronics subsidiaries).

Current manned aircraft in which the British aerospace industry has a major role include the AgustaWestland AW101, AgustaWestland AW159, Airbus A320 family, Airbus A330, Airbus A340, Airbus A380, Airbus A400M, BAE Hawk, Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Boeing 787,[7] Bombardier CRJ700, Bombardier CSeries, Bombardier Learjet 85, Britten-Norman Defender, Britten-Norman Islander, Eurofighter Typhoon, Hawker 800, Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. Current unmanned aerial vehicles in which the British aerospace industry has a major role include the BAE Taranis, Barnard Microsystems InView UAV, QinetiQ Zephyr and Watchkeeper WK450.

The British aerospace industry has made many important contributions to the history of aircraft, and was solely or jointly responsible for the development and production of the first aircraft with an enclosed cabin (the Avro Type F), the first jet aircraft to enter service for the Allies in the Second World War (the Gloster Meteor),[8] the first commercial jet airliner to enter service (the de Havilland Comet),[9] the first aircraft capable of supercruise (the English Electric Lightning),[10] the first supersonic commercial jet airliner to enter service (the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde),[11] the first fixed-wing V/STOL combat aircraft to enter service (the Hawker Siddeley Harrier),[12] the first twin-engined widebody commercial jet airliner (the Airbus A300),[13] the first digital fly-by-wire commercial aircraft (the Airbus A320)[14] and the largest commercial aircraft to enter service to date (the Airbus A380).[15]

A parade flight comprising an Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde and BAE Hawks of the Red Arrows aerobatics display team for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
A Supermarine Spitfire, of which 20,351 were produced between 1938 and 1948.

General statistics

UK aerospace industry in 2006[16][17]
Turnover in million pounds: New orders in million pounds: R&D expenditure in million pounds: Number of employees:
19820 26200 2540 124234


1939 to 1945

1945 to 1950

1950 to 1960

1960 to 1970

1970 to 1980

1980 to 1990

1990 to 2000

2000 to present

Current major projects

Manned civil aircraft

  • Airbus A380, A350 XWB, A340, A330 and the Airbus A320 family wings and fuel systems. The A380 is the largest civil passenger plane in production, with orders of 257 aircraft with 86 delivered as of October 2012. The wings were developed and are being built in the UK. Rolls-Royce offers its Trent 900 for the A380 and has so far secured 61% of the market based on operator decisions.[18] Iain Gray, former Airbus UK managing director, once said that an Airbus A380 with Rolls-Royce engines had a UK content of about 40-50%. The A350 XWB is the Airbus answer to the Boeing 787 and has so far achieved 564 firm orders. The aircraft's wings are being developed at Filton and the final assembly of these will take place at Broughton. Rolls-Royce is currently the only engine supplier to the A350 XWB with the Trent XWB.
  • Hawker 800XP, the Airbus plant in Broughton builds the fuselage and wings for the Hawker 800XP variant. This work employs about 450 people at the plant in North Wales.
  • Bombardier Aerospace business jet and regional jet families, the Northern Irish facilities of Bombardier play an important role in nearly every Bombardier aircraft programme. The most notable are the production of the fuselage for the Learjet 40 and Learjet 45, the production of the centre fuselage for the Challenger 300 and other programmes.[19] For the newly proposed C-Series Belfast is planned to design and produce the wings, rear fuselage and nacelles.[20]
  • In June 2011 the UK-based company HyperMach announced the launch of a project to develop a new supersonic passenger airliner, SonicStar, with the first flight planned for 2021.[21]

Manned military aircraft

  • Eurofighter Typhoon, the British aerospace industry has a 37.5% share in the production of the Eurofighter Typhoon and a 33% share in the development of the aircraft. The main participants here are BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce and the current order book stands at 707 aeroplanes.[22]
  • BAE Hawk, one of the best known advanced jet trainers in the world and has generated billions of pounds in exports for the British aerospace industry, here again BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce are the two main participants and so far over 900 Hawks have been sold. The latest variant is the "AJT" version, or "Advanced Jet Trainer".[23]
  • F-35 Lightning II, the UK industry has a workshare of about 20% in the F35 Lightning II and has two companies in "Team JSF", BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. BAE Systems designed and produces the aft fuselage, fuel system, horizontal and vertical stabilizers among other things. Rolls-Royce has a 40% workshare in the F136 alternative F35 Lightning II engine and provides the Liftfan for all F35Bs.[24]
  • Airbus A400M, the UK is buying 22[25] A400Ms and thus has a workshare roughly equivalent to its share of procurement, which equates to about 14%. Due to traditional Airbus roles, Airbus UK developed the wings for the A400M and outsourced some of the manufacturing; however, the final assembly takes place in Filton.[26]

Civil and military UAVs and UCAVs

InView UAV for use in scientific, commercial and state applications.
  • BAE Taranis is a UCAV programme largely funded by the British government. Its aim is to fly by early 2013 and thus inform the Royal Air Force about future UCAV operations. Final assembly will take place in Warton. Flight testing will probably occur in Australia.
  • BAE Mantis is the world's first autonomous drone which means it can fly the mission itself.and has the capabilities to fly for 24 hours. The crew put in the mission into Mantis and then send it off and it flies itself to the mission launches weapons or just observes (reconnaissance) and then flies itself back avoiding any obstacles (missiles etc.). Its first flight was on November 2009, it's expected to enter service with the RAF in 2015.
  • BAE HERTI is an autonomous utility UAV, that has first flown in 2004 and is aimed at the near term military and commercial markets for UAVs. Unlike the Taranis, the HERTI will likely go into production as a first production variant, that has been developed and should be delivered to BAE Systems by end of November 2007.[citation needed]
  • QinetiQ Zephyr UAV, recently set up the unofficial world endurance record for UAVs. The longest flight of this UAV, according to QinetiQ, was 54 hours and thus the longest UAV flight ever. However, because no official representation was present the flight is not an official record.[27]
  • Thales UK/Elbit Systems Watchkeeper programme is worth about 700 million pounds and is currently the largest UAV programme in Europe. The Israeli company, Elbit, provided the basic airframe design, from which Thales UK derived the Watchkeeper. These UAVs are being built in Leicester, with subsystems being sourced from throughout the United Kingdom and also beyond. Next to the United Kingdom, Israel has a significant workshare in this programme.[citation needed]
  • Selex ES has developed a whole range of small battlefield UAVs such as the Falco and ASIO. Most of these have been developed in collaboration with Italian companies.[citation needed]
  • Barnard Microsystems Limited has developed the InView UAV for use in scientific (measuring volcanic ash distributions), commercial (oil, gas and mineral exploration and production) and state (border patrol) applications. The focus in the development of the InView was on safety, automation (test and flight) and modularity. First flights of this twin engine unmanned aircraft took place in the U.K. in on 9 April 2010.[28]


  • AgustaWestland AW101, developed from the WG.34 of Westland Helicopters, this project quickly turned into a collaboration with Italy as both countries realised they had similar requirements. In 1979, a joint company was set up and development commenced. Since 2004, Agusta and Westland are a single merged company and the EH101 has been renamed AW101. So far nine countries have ordered about 180 helicopters.
  • AgustaWestland Future Lynx and AgustaWestland Super Lynx are developments of the basic Westland Lynx, which has seen tremendous international success with more than 400 Lynx helicopters sold so far. The Super Lynx has seen considerable success with Oman, Malaysia, Thailand, South Africa and Algeria ordering the Super Lynx 300 in recent times. The United Kingdom ordered the development of the Future Lynx helicopters and the delivery of 70 helicopters (with 10 additional options) in a one billion pound contract in 2006. First flight is anticipated for 2009.
  • AgustaWestland AW159, in mid 2006, AgustaWestland confirmed that the Yeovil factory will take the lead in the development of this new helicopter.


  • Eurojet EJ200, Rolls-Royce has a 33% share in the development of the EJ200 engine for the Eurofighter Typhoon and a 36% share in the manufacture of this turbofan engine. The EJ200 is based on the XG.40 engine research programme carried out by Rolls-Royce and the UK MoD in the 1980s.
  • General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136, Rolls-Royce had a 40% workshare in the F136, an alternative engine for the F35 Lightning II. Development was cancelled in December 2011 after failing to gather Pentagon support for further development.
  • Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour MK951 is a British-French codevelopment for the Jaguar and later adopted for the Hawk trainer jet. Rolls-Royce has a 50% workshare in the Adour and the remaining final assembly line is in Bristol, United Kingdom.
  • Europrop International TP400-D6, Rolls-Royce has a 25% workshare in the TP400D-6. Its work includes final assembly, the high pressure compressor, the low pressure shaft, the intermediate case and the bearing support structure. However, much of this work is carried out in Germany, such as the final assembly, because Rolls-Royce has a larger workshare in relation to the UK aircraft purchase. The solution is that Rolls-Royce Deutschland does some of the work and thus can claim a part of the German workshare in the aircraft.
  • Rolls-Royce LiftSystem is the STOVL component for the F35B. It is entirely developed and produced by Rolls-Royce. As with the Rolls-Royce share in the F136, the Liftfan development is led by the company's Bristol facility with considerable input from the Indianapolis offices.
  • Rolls-Royce Trent family.
    • Trent 500 is the only engine offered for the A340-500 and A340-600.
    • Trent 800 is offered on the B777 and the Trent 700 is offered on the A330, where it has achieved large success.
    • Trent 900 is Rolls-Royce's offering for the Airbus A380 and it has achieved a workshare of more than 50% against the Engine Alliance GP7200.
    • Trent 1000 is the launch engine for all variants of the B787 and by November 2007, over 600 Trent 1000s have been ordered by 19 airlines. This gives the Trent 1000 a market share of slightly more than 40%.[29]
    • Trent XWB is the newest Rolls-Royce engine of the Trent series. It will power the A350 XWB and has currently achieved 800 orders. In November 2007, Rolls-Royce declared that it will build a new factory in Singapore to final assemble some of the Trent XWBs and Trent 1000s.
  • Rolls-Royce RB211 family.
    • RB211-524 engine is supplied by Rolls-Royce for the Boeing 747. It formed the basis for the development of the Trent engine series.
    • RB211-535 is supplied for the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767.
  • RB282 is an engine developed by Rolls-Royce, to power the new Dassault super midsize business jet. In November 2007, Rolls-Royce announced that the RB282 would be developed and tested in newly completed facilities in Bristol. Its production however would take place in Virginia.[30]
  • International Aero Engines V2500, Rolls-Royce is a supplier for the IAE V2500, having previously also being a major shareholder of the company. Whilst the Rolls-Royce final assembly for this engine has been shifted from Derby to Germany, the British part of Rolls-Royce still manufactures a large degree of the engine.
  • EFE - Environmentally Friendly Aero Engine is a 95 million pound programme, carried out by Rolls-Royce and a first engine run is planned for 2008. Its aim is to prepare the UK industry for future engine programmes and from a technical perspective, its aims are a 10% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and a 60% reduction in NOx emissions.[31]
  • UAV Engines Limited (UEL), a British company owned by Elbit of Israel, is one of the largest suppliers of UAV engines in the world. Their engines, ranging from 20 hp (15 kW) to 120 hp (89 kW), are installed on 25 different UAV systems.[32] It will provide the engine for the British Army's Watchkeeper UAV.


  • Meteor, the UK is the largest partner in the development of the European long range air-to-air missile.
  • Brimstone, an air-to-ground missile that was developed by MBDA, in cooperation with Boeing.
  • Storm Shadow, a British-French long range stand off cruise missile (also known as Scalp EG and Black Shaheen).
  • ASRAAM, short range air-to-air missile developed by MBDA and sold to the UK and Australia. Saudi-Arabia is a likely new customer after their purchase of Eurofighter Typhoons.
  • Starstreak I, originally developed by Shorts Missile Systems, it is now an integral part of the offerings of Thales UK.
  • Starstreak II, a new development by Thales UK, using the Starstreak I as a basis for development. First trials have been successful.


  • Euroradar CAPTOR is the Eurofighter Typhoon radar. It has been developed and is being produced by the Euroradar consortium, a joint venture of major European radar houses. The UK contribution comes mainly from Selex ES, the former Ferranti. The CAPTOR is based on the Blue Vixen radar of the Sea Harrier FA2.
  • CAPTOR-E is the AESA variant of the CAPTOR radar. A CAPTOR-E technology demonstrator, called CAESAR, first flew in early 2006, on a BAC 1-11 and has since then, also flown on a Eurofighter development aircraft. According to reports it has about 1400 T/R modules.
  • Searchwater 2000, developed by Thales UK, was to be the main search radar for the now defunct Nimrod MRA4 programme. The AEW variant is fitted to the UK's Westland Sea King AsaC7 helicopters that operate from the Invincible class aircraft carriers.
  • Seaspray 5000E, Seaspray 7000E and Seaspray 7500E - the Seaspray family of AESA radars developed by Selex ES has found widespread use in various applications. The Seapray 7000E has been selected for the Future Lynx and the Seaspray 7500E has been selected by the United States Coast Guard for its C-130s. The range for these radars is given as more than 100 nautical miles (190 km) for the Seaspray 5000E,[33] 200 nautical miles (370 km) for the Seaspray 7000E[34] and 320 nautical miles (590 km) for the Seaspray 7500E.[35]
  • Vixen 500E is a small AESA radar developed by Selex ES for small lightweight fighter aircraft. It is currently under development and has so far no customers. It has approximately 500 T/R modules. There is also a variant with 750 T/R modules under development. The range of the Vixen 500E is given as 35 nautical miles (65 km).[36]
  • Picosar radar is a very small AESA radar also developed by Selex ES with a range of about 20 kilometres and a weight of around 10 kg.[37] Its market is mainly seen as a cheap, small radar for UAVs.


  • Galileo satellite navigation system, intended to rival the American GPS system, is supported by the United Kingdom and its industry has a significant workshare in the development of the system.
  • Disaster Monitoring Constellation, a five satellite constellation with the first satellite being launched in 2002, to monitor disasters around the globe. Every satellite has been funded by a different country and SSTL has built and operates them. Currently, there are another three satellites under construction, one for Nigeria, one for the UK and one for Spain.[38]
  • Astrium satellite business
  • Solar Orbiter, amongst the largest research satellites built in Britain[39]


Current major participants


AgustaWestland is an international helicopter manufacturer owned by Finmeccanica of Italy. In the United Kingdom, the company has one factory in Yeovil, employing more than 4,000 people.[49] Its main products with a large British content are the EH101, the Super and Future Lynx and the AW139 and AW149.

Airbus UK

An Airbus A380, the wings and engines of which are produced in the UK.

Airbus (a subsidiary of Airbus Group) directly employs around 13,000 people at its UK division Airbus UK, with estimates that it supports another 140,000 jobs in the wider UK economy.[50][51] The traditional UK workshare in Airbus aircraft is around 20%.[52] Airbus has major sites at Filton in the city of Bristol and at Broughton in north Wales.[50] Filton is the main research and development and support centre for all Airbus wings, fuel systems and landing gear integration.[53] Broughton, which employs over 5,000 people, is the main wing manufacturing centre for all Airbus aircraft and also builds the fuselage and wings of the Hawker 800.[51][53] Since 2006 Airbus has also had a small development centre in the Midlands.[citation needed]


Astrium (a subsidiary of Airbus Group) is the largest space company in Europe and employs around 2,700 people in the UK.[54] It has sites at Stevenage (1,200 employees), Portsmouth (1,400 employees) and Poynton (120 employees).[55][56][57]

BAE Systems

The UK-headquartered BAE Systems is the world's second-largest defence contractor and it employs around 36,400 people in the UK.[4][5] The largest aerospace related locations of BAE Systems are Warton, Samlesbury and Brough. The final assembly line for the British Eurofighter Typhoons, a collaborative European programme, is located at Warton. All flight test activity for manned aircraft is undertaken from Warton, which is also the development centre within BAE Systems, for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), UCAVs and the Saudi Tornado upgrade programme. Samlesbury is the production hub of the Military Air Solutions division of BAE Systems. Here, components for the Eurofighter Typhoon, the F35 Lightning II, the Hawk, UAVs, UCAVs and Airbus aircraft get built. At Brough, the BAE Hawk gets produced and final assembled, flight tests are done at Warton. Overall, Military Air Solution has 14,000 employees spread across eight sites in the United Kingdom.[58]

Britten-Norman Group

The Britten-Norman Group is a small company with about 100 employees. It is best known for its design of rugged transport aircraft, such as the Islander,[59] Trislander and Defender 4000. To reduce costs, the company (resident on the Isle of Wight) did not perform manufacture of the airframes, but instead outsourced this to Romania. However, it has now moved production of all aircraft back to Daedalus Airfield and also performs in the European hub for the Cirrus SR20 and SR22 final assembly and delivery.[60]

Bombardier UK

The Canadian company, Bombardier, employs about 5,000 people in its aerospace division in the UK. It can trace its roots back to Shorts Brothers in Northern Ireland. The company has significant workshares in most Bombardier aircraft with its specialities being fuselages and nacelles.


Cobham plc employs more than 12,000 people in the UK and elsewhere. Its most important products include refuelling equipment and communication systems.

GE Aviation Systems

GE Aviation Systems, formerly known as Smiths Aerospace, is a division of General Electric, with about 10,000 employees, half of which work in the UK.


GKN Aerospace is a division of the British company GKN, which employs approximately 5,000 people, mainly in the UK and the USA. In the UK, its most important facility is on the Isle of Wight, where it has a carbon composite centre of excellence. There it designed, and used to produce, the composite wing spar for the Airbus A400M now produced at GKN's New purpose built Western Approach, Bristol site. The company is also known for producing the cell of the Super Lynx and Future Lynx helicopters. It is the former owner of Westland Helicopters.


MBDA is the largest European missile house, owned by BAE Systems (37.5%), EADS (37.5%) and Finmeccanica (25%). It operates across Europe, with main capabilities in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy. In the UK, the main sites are Bristol (software and systems) Lostock (production), Stevenage (R&D and integration) and London (management). Modern missile programmes, of MBDA with a British input, are the AIM-132 ASRAAM, Meteor, Storm Shadow, Rapier, Sea Wolf and Brimstone among others.[61]


QinetiQ is formed from parts of the former Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA). It has close to 12,000 employees and is one of the major players in the British aerospace industry. QinetiQ's main aerospace business relates to satellites, UAVs and reconnaissance systems.


An Airbus A400M, which is powered by the Europrop TP400.

The UK-headquartered Rolls-Royce Group is the world's second-largest maker of aircraft engines (behind General Electric).[62][63] It has a total of around 38,000 employees, of whom about 23,000 are based in the United Kingdom.[30] The company's main UK factories are at Derby and Bristol. In Derby, the three shaft Trent engines get developed and produced. The current line up includes the Trent 700 for the Airbus A330, the Trent 900 for the Airbus A380, the Trent 1000 for the Boeing 787 and the Trent XWB for the Airbus A350 XWB, among others. In Bristol, the company has concentrated its military aerospace business with the British final assembly line for the EJ200 engine for the Eurofighter Typhoon, the only final assembly line for the British-French Adour engine and other programmes, such as significant parts of the workshare, in the international TP400 turboprop engine for the Airbus A400M and the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 engine for the F-35 Lightning II. Recently, Bristol has also been confirmed as the centre for the development and testing of the civil RB282 engine, which will, however, be produced in Virginia.[30]

Main locations

  • Bristol
  • Hucknall
  • Barnoldswick/Burnley
  • Inchinnan

Selex ES

Selex ES is a Finmeccanica company and an international leader in electronic and information technologies for defence systems, aerospace, data, infrastructures, land security and protection and sustainable ’smart’ solutions.

The company is an integrated global business with a workforce of approximately 17,000 and total revenues in excess of €3.5 billion. Alongside core operations in Italy and the UK, the company has an established industrial and commercial footprint in the United States, Germany, Turkey, Romania, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and India.

Surrey Satellite Technology

An artist's impression of two of the five satellites constructed by Surrey Satellite Technology for RapidEye AG.

Surrey Satellite Technology is a small satellite development and production company. It has currently has c.600 employees and is the world leader in small satellites.[64] In its 22-year history, it has developed satellites for 27 missions. The two Galileo satellite navigation proofing satellites, GIOVE-A and GIOVE-A2, are two of their better-known satellites. Originally a spin-out company from the University of Surrey, Surrey Satellite Technology is now 99% owned by the Astrium division of Airbus Group.[65]

Thales UK

Thales Group UK has wide ranging capabilities including avionics, UAVs, simulation capabilities and other things.

Trifibre Flight Cases

Trifibre are Manufacturers of bespoke Flight Cases, protective Cases for the Aerospace Industry.

See also


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External links