Tier-1 supplier GKN Aerospace has “strengthened its position” in its “classic” domains of wings and composite aerostructures with its €706 million ($775 million) takeover of Fokker Technologies – and bought its way into an electrical wiring capability that the company believes will prove hugely valuable as aircraft become increasingly electric.
GKN chief executive Kevin Cummings tells Flightglobal that Fokker’s Elmo wiring and interconnections business is probably number three in the market, and very strong in design and systems integration. That capability broadens GKN’s market reach, he says, putting GKN “in a really nice spot” as aircraft adopt more electrical systems – and, ultimately, as designers look to save weight and improve performance by embedding electricals in composite structures.
Cummings describes Fokker as "complementary" in terms of composite structure technology. Where GKN’s strength is in thermoset composites, Fokker – known for its sandwich-style “Glare” skin panels used on Airbus A380 and other types – is a market leader in thermoplastics. Together, says Cummings, GKN will have “probably the most complete composite base out there for aerostructures”.
Fokker also brings strength to GKN technology in the “adjacent” segment of landing gear. Fokker has part of the Netherlands' involvement in the Lockheed Martin F-35 and NH Industries NH90 programmes, where Cummings reckons GKN’s composites expertise will prove beneficial.
The deal also gives momentum to a broader GKN drive to invest in Asia. Fokker has about 1,000 employees in China, India and Turkey, which will take GKN’s total Asian headcount to 8-10% of its global workforce.
About a quarter of Fokker’s turnover – €758 million in 2014 – is in aftermarket services to the legacy Fokker fleet and other types. Though GKN has its own aftermarket business, in engines – a sector it bought into with its £633 million acquisition of Volvo Aero in 2012 – this is not what Cummings calls a “classic” GKN domain. The plan now, he says, is to bring the two units into line and look for growth and ways to “be a smart operator in that arena”. However, he adds that GKN will “step back and reassess if necessary”.
But broadly, says Cummings, Fokker’s heritage as an aircraft maker has left the legacy company with capabilities that most suppliers don’t have, providing a attractive addition to GKN’s strengths in manufacturing and logistics.
Unlike GKN’s takeovers of Volvo Aero and Airbus’s wing-making unit at Filton (acquired for £136 million in 2009), the Fokker deal stands out in aerospace as a successful private equity exit; many such investors bought in during the pre-crisis boom years and have struggled to sell following the 2008 crash. Fokker’s owner, Arle Capital, calls the sale “a full exit for investors at a value significantly above that prevailing when Arle took over management of the [previous investor] Candover funds”.
The deal remains subject to regulatory approval but is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year. Fokker’s headquarters will remain in the Netherlands.