MORE than a thousand North West jobs are in jeopardy after Lufthansa shelved plans to order up to 15 Airbus 'super-jumbo' jets.
The German airline's decision came in response to the expected slump in air travel following the US terror attacks.
And, last night, the Pentagon, in Washington DC, ordered warplanes to the Persian Gulf as Afghanistan's Taliban regime stalled over demands to hand over terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
President George Bush is due to broadcast to the nation later today a speech which is widely expected to herald the start of military action against Kabul.
Wings for the Airbus A380 "superjumbo" will be built at BAE's Broughton factory at Chester.
The factory, which already employs several thousand workers, is due to build a new plant and take on 1,700 extra staff to work on the A380. Lufthansa's Executive Board and Supervisory Board, meeting in Frankfurt yesterday, agreed to shelve plans to order the A380s and four Boeing 747 jumbo jets.
Company chief executive and chairman Jurgen Weber last night blamed the terrorist attacks which "will have a major impact throughout the aviation sector".
He said the company would no longer achieve its projected profits of around £430m and would struggle to avoid an operating loss.
Virgin Atlantic, which has signed up for six A380s with an option for half a dozen more, has already decided to axe 1,800 jobs in the wake of last week's attacks.
And British Airways is set to axe 6,000 jobs as ticket sales plummet, acccording to reports early today.
Lufthansa's decision came just hours after Airbus's US rival Boeing announced the loss of between 20,000 and 30,000 jobs at its factory in Seattle. Several major airliners have also announced redundancies, including American Airlines which will shed at least 20,000.
Boeing's announcement fuelled fears yesterday of a knock-on effect in the UK. It is understood "worried" Airbus executives met in Toulouse, France, on Tuesday to discuss the situation, although it is thought they are not as concerned about the A380 as they were in the days following the atrocity.
The company yesterday said it was monitoring the situation closely but stressed it remained "cautiously optimistic" about the medium to long-term prospects for air travel. Unions yesterday urged firms to remain "calm" and not to react to the present turmoil by axing jobs.
A union spokesman at Broughton, where all Airbus wings are produced, said: "Some of the lads have been asking questions in the light of speculation in the media but as far as we are concerned it is business as usual. Our order books, as everyone knows, are good and the company is telling us that nothing has happened to change that, it is business as usual."
Airbus has already announced more than 60 orders for the aircraft and the company was expecting to reach 100 by the end of the year --exceeding forecasts. It originally said 50 orders were enough to start development of the 555-seat double decker aircraft, which is due to enter service in 2006.
Unions have been told there are no changes in plans to build the new factory for production of the A380.
However, a national union delegation will meet Transport Secretary Stephen Byers today to discuss interim relief for the aerospace and airline industries.
Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing Science and Finance Union, said: "At this time of world turmoil, the last thing we need is a knee-jerk reaction from aerospace companies and airlines that will compound the misery by cutting jobs and throwing thousands on to the scrapheap."
Any job losses at Broughton would have a devastating effect on an area still reeling from cuts at the Corus steel plant.
Unions at the Broughton yesterday said they were being told it was "business as usual". They claimed Boeing's announcement was no surprise, because the company was over-staffed.