Kate Sarsfield/LONDON

B-N Group, formerly Britten Norman, may be forced to transfer manufacturing operations and maintenance of its utility aircraft line from its Bembridge Airport, Isle of Wight base in the UK, after a surprise decision by the landowner to repossess the airfield after terms of a new lease could not be agreed.

The dispute prevents the company from assembling, maintaining, servicing and refurbishing aircraft as it is unable to fly them on or off the site. It does not affect other sections of the group's activities, including the lucrative spare parts manufacturing and technical publications for its Islander, Trislander and Defender 4000 aircraft ranges.

Maurice Hynett, managing director of B-N's Omani owner, Alawi Zawawi Enterprises, says: "We were under the impression that negotiations over the lease were progressing well. The moment we did not accede to their excessive demands, this action was taken."

Lawyers for the landlord decline to comment.

The move is a major blow for the manufacturer, which has suffered a number of setbacks recently, particularly after its acquisition by UK investment company Litchfield Continental from Pilatus Aircraft in 1998.

The promise of investment from Litchfield failed to materialise and the manufacturer fell into receivership this year.

The Zawawi investment group rescued and renamed Britten Norman last month and plans to inject capital and raise the profile of one of the UK's oldest aircraft manufacturers.

"We want to move away from a 'feast or famine' culture of dependence on our own products. Initially we plan to offer subcontracting work , but ultimately we hope to expand our portfolio to manufacture of other aircraft types," says B-N.

The company is also trying to resurrect an order with China Northern for three Trislanders, which was withdrawn after bankruptcy proceedings.

B-N is examining other airfields in southern England in a bid to find a new site.

Source: Flight International