FEARS of huge job losses at aircraft manufacturer Airbus are over-pessimistic, a Government minister has said.

Industry minister Brian Wilson, on a visit to the consortium's headquarters in Toulouse, said he hoped the number of jobs at risk could be greatly reduced.

Airbus is seeking volunteers for redundancies. It is also proposing a shorter working week and cuts in overtime in a bid to avoid huge lay-offs at its factories in Broughton, North Wales, and Filton, near Bristol, because of falling demand.

Production of the Airbus in the UK next year is expected to be down by 25 per cent in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11.

The company is streamlining its supply chain to cope with the decline in demand.

However, that process is unlikely to affect its County Durham supplier, Aerospace Systems and Technologies (AS&T), in Consett, which employs more than 250 staff.

Operations director at the firm, Harry Kennedy, said: "These cuts have had an impact on our business, but we are currently surviving it well. We are not replacing jobs lost through natural wastage, but we have no plans to make any major redundancies.

"We expect an upturn in the aerospace business by the end of next year as confidence returns to the industry. The airlines can only keep the aircraft they have for so long before they will need to replace them.

"This downturn could be positive for us as Airbus streamlines its supply base. We are currently categorised as an A1 supplier, so while others may lose work, it is unlikely that we will be affected.

"Airbus has a supply base of around 1,000 companies across the world, and some of them will undoubtedly go to the wall, but at the end of the day the work will still need to be done by some companies, and we fully expect to be one of them."

Mr Kennedy said the industry had been tightening its belt since the terrorist attacks on the US.

US company Boeing has already announced 30,000 job cuts, while Airbus, Bombadier and BAE are all cutting back