GKN chief executive Kevin Smith says the UK company is continuing to negotiate with Boeing over a possible acquisition of its Wichita aerostructures plant, and has submitted "proposals and ideas" on how it might run the operation.

However, he will not confirm how advanced talks are. "We are in dialogue, but we have signed confidentiality agreements and can't say any more," he says.

Speaking in London last week, Smith denied the sale of GKN's 50% stake in helicopter joint venture AgustaWestland to Italy's Finmeccanica is linked to any possible deal on Wichita. The automotive and aerospace group expects to collect around £1 billion ($1.9 billion) from the transfer of its Yeovil-based portion of the business by the end of the year. "People have suggested that we're swapping Westland to buy Wichita, but it has not been a key driver in the negotiations," he says.

GKN - which four years ago bought Boeing's military aerostructures facility in St Louis - has been in and out of contention on Wichita since Boeing appointed investment firm Goldman Sachs in April to examine options for the Kansas plant. GKN did not submit proposals when invited in May, says Smith, but has continued to talk to Boeing.

There have been suggestions that the US manufacturer is under pressure to lower its asking price.

Carlyle Group-owned US aerostructures company Vought is thought to be the other main suitor for the Wichita plant, which builds the 737 fuselage, although a group of Boeing workers last month indicated they were considering making a bid if the facility goes on the market.

Smith, incoming president of the Society of British Aerospace Companies, admits he felt a "twinge" when the company sold Westland - the UK's only helicopter manufacturer - but says it "made the best sense for shareholders".



Source: Flight International