THE UK'S Hunting group has announced plans to disband its aviation division in a move expected to lead to the quick disposal of its aircraft-interiors businesses and the eventual sale of the cargo airline.

Hunting chief executive Ken Miller says that the group wants to sell off its non-core businesses "-as rapidly as possible, particularly from the aviation division". The remainder of the aviation operations will be integrated into the defence division, which specialises in air-launched weapons and manages the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) AWE atomic weapons-research establishment.

Hunting has been struggling to restructure its aviation division for the last five years, and has already sold off some units, but the business ran into further difficulty in February, when its aircraft-interiors arm at Biggin Hill was forced to end its risk-sharing contract for the Bombardier de Havilland Dash 8 programme after serious cost overruns. Its interiors business has also lost work on the Saab 340 and faces diminishing numbers of the AI(R) Jetstream 41.

In its 1996 results, the group put aside ú30 million ($48 million). to cover the costs of the Dash 8 deal, and another ú10.5 million to write down risk-sharing investment on the J41, leaving the aviation division showing losses of ú39 million.

Questions over the interiors business and its allied in-flight entertainment and business-aircraft finishing operations had already been raised.

Miller's latest statement, confirming that the group will concentrate only on its core businesses in defence and oil trading, also casts doubt over the long-term future of the Hunting Cargo Airline and the engineering centre at East Midlands Airport.

The aviation division's fast-growing contract-services unit, which runs an increasing number of MoD contracts, however, would make a good fit with the defence division given its AWE work. The Airmotive operation, which maintains Rolls-Royce Conway and Dart engines, could also make the move to the defence division.

Source: Flight International