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BAE systems is looking to offload its 20 per cent stake in European aircraft consortium Airbus for up to £3bn, the BBC reports. The move - prompted by a fall in profits in BAE's commercial aerospace division and a desire to focus on its burgeoning "core defence business" - will not affect the 13,000 Airbus workers in the UK, BAE confirmed.

BAE chief executive Mike Turner said: "We believe that now is the right time for us to divest our Airbus shareholding to allow us to concentrate on our core transatlantic defence and aerospace strategy."

Accordingly, BAE is in talks with Franco-German group EADS, which own the rest of Airbus. The company said: "Discussions are at an early stage and a further announcement will be made if and when appropriate."

BAE's UK Airbus operation comprises two plants at Broughton in North Wales and Filton, Bristol, both dedicated to the design and production of aircraft wings. The former recently announced the creation of 650 new jobs, taking the total workforce to 6,650.

The unions are, understandably, a little jittery at the announcement. The Amicus union's national officer, Ian Waddle, said: "We want to find out if production will remain in the UK or whether it will be shifted to countries where the new buyers are based."

Airbus has now taken 159 orders for the forthcoming A380 - a key component in its battle for domination of the civil aviation skies. It has to date delivered 4,198 aircraft of all types from 6,376 total orders. Its turnover in 2,005 was around €22.3bn. ®

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