AgustaWestland is the latest UK defence contractor to announce
big job cuts, with up to 375 people to be laid off, largely from its Yeovil
factory, in response to reduced helicopter purchases by the UK Ministry of
Defence as well as slowing export sales. The exact number of redundancies is
yet to be determined, and the company has launched a voluntary scheme to
minimise the number of compulsory cuts it will have to make.
The final number will be known in early 2012, following a
90-day consulting period, but could be in excess of 10% of the company's UK
workforce of 3,600, including 3,400 at Yeovil.
The move follows BAE Systems' end-September announcement
that it was cutting nearly 3,000 UK jobs in response to spending
cuts in programmes ranging from the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter to Hawk
trainers and Tornado attack jets.
The Finmeccanica division hopes to shift reliance away from
defence business with the introduction of its AW169 multi-purpose civil
helicopter, which is being readied for delivery from 2015. AW expects to sell
1,000 of the 10-seat models over 25 years, to transport and offshore operators
and for law enforcement and surveillance duties.
The AW169 will make its first flight next year, and one of
four prototypes will be based at Yeovil, which is focussing its attention on
main and tail rotor and transmission development. But the company readily
admits that in the short term the Yeovil plant, which assembles the AW101,
Super Lynx and AW159 models, will increasingly have to make do with ongoing support
activity for the UK
And, it has yet to be decided how Yeovil will fit into the
AW169 programme once it moves from development into production, and there is no
guarantee that the plant will be a mainline production centre. The AW139, for example,
is assembled in Italy and
with a third plant soon to come online in Russia.
Managing director Ray Edwards said: "These steps together -
the increased civil aircraft work-flow, the launch of the AW169 and the
streamlining of the workforce - will place our UK
operation on a strong footing and enable us to keep the skills needed for the UK to retain a
viable helicopter capability.
"Our military business remains central to our success.
This said, extending our capabilities in civil production and competing for
export programmes, both areas where the government has shown considerable
support, are the keys to AgustaWestland's future."
Ultimately, AgustaWestland should have plenty of room to
grow in civil markets - assuming its product can match the appeal of
Eurocopter, which is increasingly a runaway market leader. As the table clearly
shows, AW is a solid number two in the UK
civil market, and growth appears to be coming at Bell's expense. Globally, AW is the clear
number three; again a flagging Bell
looks to be providing opportunity to gain ground - but that means grabbing
sales from Eurocopter.