The last RAF aircraft to be repaired by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) at St Athan has flown out, ending 75 years of maintenance at the site.
The remaining 200 workers at the base will be made redundant after the VC10 left at 15:50 GMT on Thursday.
Vale of Glamorgan MP Alun Cairns called for the skills of the workforce to be kept within the area.
The Welsh government said it was working to attract new companies, with interest in a new enterprise zone.
Mr Cairns said he was sorry to see the last aircraft leave the site, but the “expert knowledge base” needed to be retained locally.
“I’m in touch with the MoD regarding the plans for the super hangar and am optimistic about the outcome,” said the MP.
Paul Lindsay of the Wales Aerospace Forum said it was “a sad day” and “a great disappointment” for the local community.
“There are positives in that we’ve had 75 good years,” he said.
“But the disappointment is that between the Welsh government and the MoD they have invested £240m there over the past 10 years.
“Let’s hope that collectively they decide what the future is for St Athan. The Welsh government and the MoD are working hard to fill the gap.”
St Athan’s history as an aircraft maintenance base dates back to 1938.
Just before and during World War II many different types of aircraft were assembled, test flown and maintained there by a staff of 14,000, and the base inevitably became a target for German bombers.
By the mid-1990s there were 3,500 engineers repairing fighter jets.
But since then the St Athan site has since endured more than a decade of uncertainty and failed attempts to secure skilled jobs.
In 2000 the Red Dragon Project began, aimed at modernising the ageing MoD facilities there, along with the construction of a £77m super hangar for fast jet repair.
The main tenant for the new super hangar was to be the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, Dara.
Gradually wound down
But in 2005, UK ministers announced they were closing the fast jet business at St Athan, with the loss of hundreds of jobs.
In March 2009 the National Audit Office and the Wales Audit Office criticised both the MoD and Welsh authorities after it had cost the taxpayer £113m and failed to deliver thousands of jobs.
The then Defence Minister Quentin Davies revealed in November 2009 that nearly 340 jobs would be lost at the base in south Wales by June 2013 at the latest.
In October 2010, a £14bn defence training academy which would have created 2,000 jobs at St Athan was scrapped as part of 8% cuts by the UK government to the defence budget.
At that time there were around 400 civilian staff left at the base.
But the operation has been gradually wound down as the contract to service the VC-10 tanker aircraft came to an end.
Mr Lindsay added: “The buildings are there. It’s available. Let’s hope somebody else comes.”
The Welsh government said there was significant private sector interest in the newly designated St Athan Enterprise Zone.
It said it was working to attract new companies to the area capable of creating sustainable jobs for local people.
A spokesman said Cardiff Airport and other key employment sites and development proposals in the immediate vicinity were now being included in the enterprise zone.
“Potential employers are made aware of the skills mix available,” said the spokesperson.
Sourced by BBC
More than 70 years of military aircraft maintenance will come to a close at a Welsh former RAF base today, in a move described as a “sad day” by workers and politicians.
The departure of the last VC10 aircraft to be serviced at MoD St Athan – formerly RAF St Athan – marks the end of an era at the Vale of Glamorgan site.
But AMs and MPs last night spoke of their hopes that the base would continue to have a bright future.
Jane Hutt, Vale of Glamorgan AM and Finance Minister, said: “It is a sad day for the highly skilled Defence Support Group (DSG) workforce.
“I am pleased the Welsh Government has recently given St Athan Enterprise Zone status and is keen to develop an Aerospace Business Park at St Athan to create jobs and use the airfield and skills base– like the DSG workforce – in the area.”
The final day of maintenance work on the aircraft, which was due to depart at 3pm, had been expected by workers at the Large Aircraft Business since the phasing out of the ageing VC10 fleet was announced two years ago.
The aircraft, which has been serviced in South Wales for nearly 20 years, was the last military plane to be serviced at the base, which has maintained an array of different military planes since the 1930s.
The DSG base closure has meant the loss of more than 300 jobs.
One worker at the base, who asked not to be named said: “It is the end of an era, but all eras come to an end and we have to move on. Of course it is sad, but we should look forward with hope and optimism.”
The closure has sparked renewed calls for action to ensure that the base is developed by both the Welsh and Westminster governments.
When the announcement of the closure was first made shortly before Christmas 2009, hopes remained high that the development of the £14bn Defence Technical Academy would provide a prosperous future. But that scheme was scrapped the next year by the incoming coalition government.
Meanwhile, it is understood some of the workers who serviced the VC10s in the “super hangar” base have found other contract employment.
The site has also seen the development of the Welsh Government’s Aerospace Business Park, with hopes that training facilities will be developed there.
The Park was recently given a boost with the news that Hunter Flying – which oversees the maintenance and operation of the largest private collection of classic aircraft of its kind – has taken a 10-year lease on two hangars at the park.
The two hangars cover 50,888 sq ft. One will be used for housing and maintaining the aircraft and the other will accommodate the large number of spares and equipment required to keep historic aircraft in an airworthy condition.
The company aims to create new employment for “a number of aircraft engineers,” including those from the DSG, as it diversifies into other areas of maintenance.
Hunter Flying’s chief engineer John Sparks said St Athan was ideal for their plans. “It ticks all the boxes and my wife Nadine and I are excited about the move,” he said.
Meanwhile, British Airways is considering expanding its maintenance operation in Wales with a new base at St Athan.
Alun Cairns, Vale of Glamorgan MP, said: “We now need to capitalise on the skills of the staff who have worked on this aircraft, and make sure that we retain these skills and expert knowledge base within our community.
“The Welsh Government need to act quickly to make their aerospace park become a reality as part of their Enterprise Zone scheme.”
He added: “I’m in touch with the MoD regarding the plans for the super hangar and am optimistic about the outcome.”
Aircraft will be 101 Sqn VC-10 K.3 ZA147/F and is expected to leave at approximately at 15:00 to Brize Norton. The aircraft may perform a flyby however this has not been confirmed.
Information provided by South Wales Aviation Group