By Costas Pitas

LONDON (Reuters) – A group of firms, including Airbus and Ford, could build more than the current government order of 20,000 ventilators and continue once normal operations begin to resume, the head of the project told Reuters on Tuesday.

Several engineering, aerospace, automotive and Formula One companies have clubbed together to produce the equipment with the aim of building over 1,500 per week.

Governments around the world are trying to boost the number of available mechanical breathing devices that can supply air and oxygen, crucial for the care of people who suffer lung failure, which can be a complication of COVID-19.

“We have the ability to produce more if demanded. We’ve got production capacity,” said Dick Elsy, who leads the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium.

Ford’s Dagenham plant is testing and assembling some components, Airbus is using its Welsh Broughton site, which makes wings for commercial aircraft, for the sub-assembly of absorbers and flow machines whilst McLaren is making trolleys on which the devices are fixed.

Ford has fitted out an empty warehouse whilst Elsy said Airbus is using a repurposed research capability site.

“We’ve deliberately chosen those facilities to be not critically dependent on the return to work,” he told Reuters.

The group of companies are not making a profit and have scaled up production of two ventilators from medical device companies Penlon and Smiths as the quickest way to produce “clinically effective and safe” devices, said Elsy.

The consortium’s work stems from a call to arms by government over a month ago, hoping that firms can help boost the production of medical devices, hand sanitisers and personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration has faced criticism from some opposition politicians and medical professionals that the response has been inadequate.

On the consortium’s ventilator project, Elsy said politicians had not been tardy.

“We never got the sense of being slow-walked at all,” he said.

(Editing by Stephen Addison)