Partnership is first broad alliance between US prime contractor and a European aerospace manufacturer

Boeing has signed a wide-ranging alliance with Italian aerospace and defence state holding company Finmeccanica that should broaden co-operation in defence, space and aerospace manufacturing.

Details on the partnership are scarce as the pair have initially agreed only to form a committee to examine opportunities for further co-operation.

However, the tie-up is significant as it is the first between the Chicago-based giant and a European manufacturer; previous deals were on a project-by-project basis.

Boeing and Finmeccanica already collaborate on a range of projects, including Boeing 767 in-flight refuelling aircraft, aerostructures production for Boeing airliners, modules for the International Space Station and the inflight datalink business Connexion.

The deal is Finmeccanica's third attempt to form a major alliance with another aerospace prime contractor in the last three years. Talks with BAE Systems collapsed in 2000, probably because Finmeccanica felt the deal undervalued its civil aerospace activities. A subsequent effort to forge a military aircraft tie-up with EADS also failed due to disagreements over valuations (Flight International, 29 January - 4 February 2002).

A change of management at Finmeccanica in mid-2002 was followed by major acquisitions, including satellite operator Telespazio in December 2002 and Aermacchi in January this year.

The Boeing move was presaged by Finmeccanica's decision this month not to take up a 5% stake in Airbus. Although European collaboration is in vogue, a move closer to Airbus would have gone against Finmeccanica's strategy of divesting non-defence interests.

Boeing is also keen to increase its defence interests, with the civil aerospace slump set to continue for at least the next 12 months, and access to Finmeccanica's technology will help it do so.

In the shrinking space market the de facto consolidation will also strengthen Boeing's grip on the satellite services and manned spaceflight sectors. Giorgio Zappa, president of Finmeccanica subsidiary Alenia Aeronautica, has reportedly said Alenia will invest in the Boeing Super Efficient Airplane project to the same extent as the Airbus A380. In December 2001 Alenia took a 4% risk share in the A380 programme.

Finmeccanica's European rivals BAE and EADS have significant links with Boeing and Northrop Grumman, respectively, but these tend to be on a project-by-project basis.

Source: Flight International