LONDON (REUTERS) - The chief executive of aerospace firm Airbus said Britain should not be frozen out of the European Union's Galileo space programme after Brexit, calling on both sides to find a long-term solution in the interest of security.
Tom Enders, Airbus CEO, said at stake was not just the Galileo satellite programme, the EU's 10 billion euro (S$16 billion) programme to develop a rival to the US Global Positioning System, but the continent's ability to protect itself.
"The UK's continued participation in the EU Galileo programme will ensure security and defence ties are strengthened for the benefit of Europe as a whole, during a period of increasing threats to our security and geopolitical instability," he said in a statement.
Enders's comments followed media reports that the bloc planned to exclude Britain and its companies from future work on the project, as Britain prepares to leave the EU in a year's time.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday that Britain wanted "complete involvement" in Galileo.
Airbus is Britain's biggest space company and is the majority owner of SSTL, a Surrey, England-based company which makes satellites for the Galileo project.
Calling Britain one of only two serious defence powers in Europe alongside France, Enders said that Britain needed to play an "integral role" in "our mutual security".
May has called for a new security treaty with the EU from next year, promising that London would continue to lead military missions and share intelligence if Brussels agreed to a pact from 2019.
Britain is a major provider of funds and expertise to European space projects and the country's space industry is considered a success story: it is growing four times faster than the rest of the UK economy and the country has a 7 per cent share of the global space industry.
Enders's statement said that Britain should not be locked out of access to Galileo encrypted services or industrial participation during the transition phase, the period that follows the UK exit from the EU in 2019, and called for a long term solution to be found.
Brexit is already inflicting damage on Britain's space industry as EU officials said in January that a security centre for Galileo satellites would be moved from Britain to Spain as a result.
Asked by Reuters whether it had a plan to set up European subsidiaries to ensure its continued involvement in Galileo, Airbus unit SSTL said: "Due to the enhanced sensitivities and political complexities around the Galileo projects and services at the moment, we are unable to provide input or comment to media at this time on our involvement."
Airbus's Enders said in his statement that there was also a need for clarity on Britain's participation in the EU Earth observation programme Copernicus.