France's Latécoère has always kept a fairly low profile, despite having carved out a solid reputation in two distinct niches - aerostructures and electrical harnesses. This may be about to change.
The Toulouse-based company's history is closely entwined with that of its bigger neighbour Airbus, although it has widened its customer portfolio to include Boeing, Dassault and Embraer. But Latécoère will have its original customer to thank if, as it hopes, it dramatically increases its profile through a partnership with Airbus's Méaulte and St-Nazaire-Ville sites.
The company is bidding for a partnership at facilities being made available under Airbus's Power8 restructuring plan as part of its drive to become a composites specialist. Latécoère has already made a good start, with a presence on Boeing's composites flagship the 787. But the company says a deal with Airbus for Méaulte and St-Nazaire-Ville will propel it into the realms of a "super Tier 1" supplier with a turnover of more than €1 billion ($1.36 billion) as well as making it a world leader in composite nose fuselage sections and a European leader in the manufacture of doors.
Latécoère is putting its faith in the increasing importance of composites on future aircraft, and is preparing itself for significant investments to make sure it is well placed to take advantage of this trend.
Like its fellow European manufacturers, the company is having to face up to the continuing weakness of the US dollar: it has embarked on a plan, known as Objectif 2009, aimed at increasing competitiveness and strengthening the group against dollar/euro exchange rate fluctuations as well as preparing for increased composites use in aircraft manufacturing.
If it succeeds, Latécoère would bring an "international dimension and renowned design bureau, the creation of a factory for composite fuselages at Méaulte and good international supply chain management", says chief executive François Bertrand.
Aerostructures is by far the largest of the company's three business units, at 66% of turnover, while on-board wiring and systems accounts for 29% and engineering and services 5%. The company is working to ensure it keeps up with global demand - and maintains the strong growth that saw it post a 22% rise in revenues in 2006 to €433 million - by positioning itself close to its customers. Its Brazilian facility, opened in 2004, allows it greater flexibility and competitiveness in its relationship with Embraer.
Latécoère was founded in 1918 as an airline and began manufacturing in 1939.
Source: Flight International