Today at a ceremony at Airbus in Broughton, North Wales, the First Minister of Wales, The Right Hon Rhodri Morgan AM, formally opened Airbus UK's three new facilities for manufacturing large components for the wings of the new A380 aircraft.

These three new developments are constructed within the original East Factory site at Broughton and represent a £73 million investment, providing additional floor area in the factory equivalent to five football pitches.

A new 22,000 m2 building, the Stringer Manufacturing Centre, is producing bottom skin "stringers" (longitudinal stiffeners) for wing panels on both the A380 and current Airbus models. A new 12,000m2 A380 Skin Manufacturing Centre – comprising two extensions to the existing Treatments Facility - is producing 18 of the 20 different aluminium alloy panels which will form the external surfaces or "skins" of the wings for the new A380.

At the opening this morning the First Minister said: "In addition to the 5,000 plus employees here at Broughton, Airbus supports many jobs in the 150 or more Welsh supplier companies and its importance to the Welsh economy cannot be under-estimated."

"The A380 is due to take to the skies in 2005, everyone in Wales send their very best wishes to the project now and for many decades to come."

Brian Fleet, Senior Vice President, Manufacturing for Airbus UK said: "This is an important day and great step forward for A380 manufacturing at Broughton. These new state of the art developments are not only bringing new jobs, skills, capacity and capability on the A380 but are also providing greater efficiency and cost benefits for some existing processes too. For example, a current model "bottom stringer" used to travel 12 kms during this manufacturing process – now it only travels through this building; the complete process used to take 12 weeks to complete and now we expect to carry it out in only four weeks once steady state operations have been achieved."

He continued: "I would like to thank the First Minister for being here today and to thank all those who are supporting our work as we build for the future here in Wales - including of course, the National Assembly of Wales, the Department of Trade and Industry, Flintshire County Council, the Welsh Development Agency, ELWa (Education and Learning Wales), our suppliers, neighbours and of course our workforce."

The dedicated Stringer Manufacturing Centre – the building in which the opening ceremony was held and which the First Minister toured - brings the benefits of close-coupled manufacturing. As well as ultimately reducing cycle times for the process; less inventory is needed resulting in associated cost savings; and a new collation area will increase efficiency by allowing complex sets of stringers to be collated in webbing straps and delivered for assembly pre-prepared for attaching straight to the milled wing skins. There are 100 different bottom stringers on an A380 wing (200 per aircraft) and some stringers will be up to 22m long.

Within the A380 Skin Manufacturing Centre, the new extension for Skin Machining houses state- of-the-art floor-level 40m long milling machines with advanced swarf extraction; providing both a safe and efficient working environment and ensuring efficient recycling of swarf.

The other Skin Manufacturing extension - for A380 Creep Forming - houses a specialist heating or “baking” process to add curvature to the top panels and subsequently to the wing surface. One of the key features is an autoclave (pressurised oven) which at 42m long, nearly six metres in diameter and weighing 300 tonnes is believed to be one of the largest in the world.

Manufacturing on A380 has begun at all Airbus sites around Europe. At Broughton first production metal was cut on 12 December 2002. Orders and commitments for the A380 – both in the initial 555 seat and the freighter version now total 103 aircraft for 10 customers with first aircraft deliveries due in 2006.

A leading aircraft manufacturer with the most modern and comprehensive product line on the market, Airbus is a global company with design and manufacturing facilities in France, Germany, the UK, and Spain as well as subsidiaries in the U.S., China and Japan. Headquartered in Toulouse, France, Airbus is an EADS joint Company with BAE SYSTEMS.