European aerospace giant Airbus has weighed into a debate about Britain's future in Europe, warning of job losses and "huge" economic risks if the country votes to leave the European Union in a referendum to be held by 2017.

A decision to quit the EU would raise doubts about Airbus's long-term future investments in the country, the company's top UK representative said, although the time needed to transfer manufacturing skills meant it could not easily shift its current operations. Airbus employs 16,000 people in the UK.

Paul Kahn, president of Airbus Group UK, aired his concerns to a Welsh business leader during a speech.

"We look for a stable competitive economic environment to operate in, and we are a successful integrated European company. So we work with France, Germany, and Spain in particular and we want to work as efficiently as possible across those borders. So anything which disrupts that is a concern to us," he said.

Currently no referendum date has been set, but British Prime Minister David Cameron has just pledged to hold one by the end of 2017. The potential for more than two years of uncertainty is an issue for Kahn.

"Business never likes uncertainty and I would share that view. What I would say is we are continuing with our investment. We announced £100m [$156m] of investment at the end of last year and we are continuing with that. That's not going to be disrupted," he said.

Airbus, the world's second-largest plane maker after Boeing, makes wings for all its passenger jets at a £2bn factory in Broughton, north Wales. It gets £6bn of revenues a year in the UK as a whole.

The warning came as Britain's largest business lobby group urged bosses to defend membership of the European Union by telling voters it is the best guarantee of prosperity.

Vodafone's chief executive has said the UK ought to remain a member. On the other hand, JCB chief executive Graeme MacDonald says it would not make much difference in trade with the rest of Europe.

Darren Sinden from Admiral Markets isn't convinced by all the concerns over possible Brexit.

"Airbus trades all around the world. It's not constrained to just dealing within the EU. In fact the majority of customers are probably outside of Europe. So these businesses are international. There will be plenty of people stepping up on both sides of the in or out debate. I suspect it's not terribly helpful unless you've got a massive core of people on one side or the other," he said.

Airbus is one of the first industrial companies to speak out in favour of EU membership since this month's UK election, which saw Cameron's Conservatives win a majority.

Cameron has pledged to renegotiate Britain's ties with Europe and then give voters a referendum on whether to leave the EU by the end of 2017.