Airbus on Wednesday cancelled long-deferred plans to sell two French and German units and announced a new proposal to hive off production of small mass-produced parts.
But it postponed any physical changes to a network of more than a dozen commercial jet factories in France, Germany, Britain and Spain, prompting Spanish unions to hail a reprieve for the Puerto Real plant in Cadiz, at least for now.
Unions and local politicians have been fighting to defend the plant since Airbus stopped building the A380 superjumbo. Workers in the robot-assisted plant had assembled the huge horizontal stabilizers for the world's largest airliner.
Work there has also been disrupted by a drop in demand for other big jets like the A330 during the pandemic.
Tensions erupted earlier this year when a top German executive said the Airbus plant - one of two in Cadiz - was "not competitive". Hundreds of protesters gathered there this week.
Spanish unions are reluctant to complete negotiations on a broader Airbus coronavirus restructuring plan until Puerto Real's future is settled, people familiar with the talks said.
On Wednesday, Airbus agreed to form a negotiating committee and unions said the company would examine new work for the plant from 2023.
"It...is certainly better than if they had announced the firm decision to close the plant and refused to open a dialogue," said Juan Antonio Vazquez of the UGT union.
Airbus said it was assessing Spanish operations "from a workload perspective" and wanted to ensure the viability and competitiveness of Cadiz. People close to the company said no decisions had been made on its future or its jobs, however.
The plant's fate illustrates the mounting stakes as Airbus battles to cut costs in the face of COVID-19 while preserving a decades-old, politically sensitive European industrial jigsaw.
Airbus is in the midst of shedding some 15,000 jobs but some in the industry have accused the company of avoiding tough choices about reducing factory footprint.
Sources close to Airbus say the changes are the start of a plan to prepare the next generation of jets at lower cost, but acknowledge political constraints on industrial plans in Europe.
Unemployment-stricken Cadiz is the latest irritant to see-saw relations between Airbus and Spain, which owns 4% of the group. Aerospace accounts for 7% of Spain's industrial GDP.
Spain has long felt sidelined in Airbus, which it helped to found in 1970, and repeatedly clashed with former Airbus CEO Tom Enders over delays to the Seville-assembled A400M airlifter.
In 2019, his successor Guillaume Faury left Spain off a leaner Airbus executive committee following the retirement of Spain's top representative, industry veteran Fernando Alonso.
Tensions came to a head later that year when Spain spurned Airbus as its formal partner for a new European fighter.
But the pandemic has fostered direct contacts between Faury and Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and in July last year, the two sides held a summit that restored some calm.
Last week, Faury announced further management changes restoring Spanish representation on the prestigious committee, even as Spain gave up the management lead on military planes.
The Spanish appointee - new operations chief Alberto Gutierrez - is taking time to consider the fate of the Puerto Real plant as he juggles his new role with the sensitive post of head of the company's Spanish operations, insiders said.
Airbus meanwhile said it had no immediate plans to review plants in Britain, but the absence of explicit commitments to the UK post-Brexit - versus pledges to other core nations - is widely seen as a signal that Britain will have to compete with other suppliers to maintain wing production on future jets.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)
By Tim Hepher and Emma Pinedo