UK repair and spare parts firm looks forward with confidence after private equity buyout

The terms "British", "growing" and "engineering firm" are not typically used in the same sentence these days, but for Beagle Aero­space they seem appropriate.

The repairs and spare parts manufacturing firm, based about 2h drive from London Heathrow airport on the Channel coast at Christchurch, Dorset, even considers itself reasonably future-proof following the commissioning in October of a purpose-built 8 x 3m (26x 10ft) autoclave, which gives it the in-house composites capability to keep up with the growing use by its civil airline customers of carbonfibre structural parts and control surfaces.

According to managing director Rob Ludford, composites make up only about 10% of Beagle's work today and it will be five or 10 years before aluminium is no longer the majority. But the £500,000 ($1 million) autoclave investment gives Beagle control of its maintenance, repair and overhaul business and cuts turnaround times for building or repair of large flight-control surfaces in composites to three weeks, from three months. It shows, he says, that "we are now a serious player".


The business started 50 years ago as CF Taylor, getting its start in fast jet repairs and acquiring the Beagle name in 1971, after Beagle Aircraft, the maker of the popular Beagle Pup and other light aircraft, went bankrupt.

The company is still a major repair station for major BAe Harrier GR7 off-aircraft structural repairs and is a supplier of structural spares for that aircraft, as part of its Future Integrated Support Team through-life support programme.

Since 2003 the company has been a spares inclusive supplier to the BAES Defence Repairs business, supplying kit sets for BAE Systems repair facilities under a service level agreement, and since 2004 has held a manufacturing licence on Sepecat Jaguar aircraft, facilitating exports to India and Oman.

Ludford says military fast jet repairs are the historical core of the business. It only got into civil repairs just before 9/11, and not surprisingly the business was flat after that. Now that is changing and it is on the civil repair side that the business expects its major growth to come.

Key pillars of the growth plan include repairs - both in the shop and on-aircraft by flying repair teams - and the building of spare parts for airliner programmes, including Airbus A380, A400M and the forthcoming A350 and Boeing 787. Beagle also remanufactures common spares by part-exchange for instant turnaround.

Ludford is happy to call Beagle a craft engineering business, and the company performs some reverse engineering of out-of-production spares.

Civil carriers including British Airways, Thomas Cook, My Travel, First Choice and MK Airlines represent the main growth area, though. Some spares inventory may be kept in the Gulf to support that business, he says.

Ludford describes his growth plan as "aggressive". From £8 million now, he sees annual turnover growing to about £25 million in five to 10 years. Beagle will add 20 to 25 people to its current staff of about 120 during the coming year, and is even taking on apprentices. In three to five years Ludford expects to have outgrown the current 9,300m2 (100,000ft2) site, at a turnover of £16-20 million. A new, purpose-built site will be close to the existing location, says Ludford, as the local workforce is ideal, as is the proximity of Bournemouth airport. Also, experience suggests that while about a quarter of the staff would move with the company further than 15km or so, most of them would soon leave, he says.


Beagle's future is likely to be influenced by the fact that it is a recent private equity buyout, having been sold in May 2006 to Monksmead Partnership by Smiths Group, which acquired it from TI in 2000.

Ludford readily acknowledges that the typical way out of a private equity deal is a trade sale or stock market flotation, but does not expect pressure from Monksmead to that end any time soon. Meeting growth plans may keep it that way.

Source: Flight International