Kevin O'Toole/LONDON

TEXTRON HAS AGREED to sell its aero-structures division to the Carlyle Group for $180 million. The deal is the latest in a string of acquisitions in the US aerospace/defence market by Carlyle, the investment firm established by former US defence secretary Frank Carlucci.

The Textron Aero-structures division, which produces wing assemblies for a range of business jets, military and civil aircraft, is based in Nashville, Tennessee, and employs around 1,500 workers. The unit expects sales of $190 million this year.

Textron chairman James Hardymon says that the disposal reinforces the group's strategy of focusing on core manufacturing operations and its growing financial-services business. Cash from the deal will be used to pay off debt, repurchase shares and fund acquisitions, although Hardymon does not say whether they are likely to be within aerospace.

Hardymon adds that the Textron Aerospace Products division is not included in the sale and that it will be re-assigned to the group's Cessna Aircraft business.

The aero-structures unit has been declining in importance for Textron. Towards the end of 1994, it lost a major slice of work from British Aerospace, which brought back wing-production for its regional-jet family to the UK, as well as work on the Airbus wings.

Textron also sold off its Lycoming engine business to AlliedSignal in 1994, leaving Cessna and Bell Helicopter as its main aerospace businesses. Textron is also understood to have held talks over a possible merger for Bell as a move towards consolidation of the overcrowded US helicopter sector.

For Carlyle, the deal is the latest in a line of investments in the aerospace sector since being founded in 1987. It comes only six months after the $777 million purchase of Howmet, the world's largest producer of investment castings for the aero-engine and industrial-turbine market.

Howmet was acquired from French group Pechiney in December by an acquisition vehicle set up by Carlyle and the Thiokol group, which is looking to increase its commercial businesses. Thiokol has rights to buy out Carlyle's 49% share in the acquisition company within three years.

Carlyle also recently added the Contour Aerospace machining business to its list of aerospace/defence acquisitions. Carlyle was involved in the break-up of LTV in 1992, take a controlling share in the Vought Aircraft operation. The investment group also took over the General Dynamics defence-electronics business and in 1993 acquired Magnavox.

All of the businesses were subsequently sold at a substantial profit. Vought Aircraft went to Northrop Grumman. GD Electronics Systems, was sold to Air Tracor and Magnavox was later acquired by Hughes Aircraft.

Source: Flight International