JOBS in Lancashire's defence industry were boosted with the news that British Aerospace will undertake nearly half the workload needed to manufacture and market the first in a new generation of Swedish combat aircraft.

The news, which will delight thousands of Aerospace workers in sites at Samlesbury and Warton, was revealed at the official launch of the Gripen fighter aircraft into the Swedish Air Force.

Royal couple King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden welcomed East Lancashire guests along with 900 other industrial and military VIPs from all over the world at Satenas Air Force Base.

The launch event featured tours of the £100 million Gripen Centrum's training facilities, a walk-through exhibition, a heart-stopping air show and a seminar.

The event heralded the new joint venture between SAAB Military Aircraft and British Aerospace Military Aircraft Division to market, adapt, manufacture, support and export variations of the Gripen combat aircraft. The Swedish Government has ordered 140.

Gripen Project Director Nigel Whitehead said: "This new agreement is exceptionally good news for the North West, which has two sites.

"A total of 45 per cent of the Gripen will be made by British Aerospace.

"We can't say what work will go to Samlesbury - it is still under negotiation - but a work package could end up there."

BAe press officer Karl Moore said: "British Aerospace can now offer their customers a full package with the Swedish-developed Gripen sandwiched between the Euro-fighter and the Hawk."

Paul Hopkins from Lancashire, the only pilot in the world to have flown the Euro-fighter, Hawk and the Gripen, said: 'It is a real privilege to be in this position.

"It is a great thrill to fly such staggering machines.

"Both companies will benefit from this agreement. There is a big market for such an aircraft. It gives everyone much encouragement for the future."

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