AgustaWestland's plant in Yeovil, Somerset, is to get some respite from job losses linked to UK defence spending cuts when, from April 2012, it takes over the maintenance of transmission, rotor and rotorhead components for Westland Sea King and Agusta Westland Lynx AH9 helicopters used by the UK Royal Navy and Army.
The move comes as a 10-year contract with Vector Aerospace comes to an end and will see the work move from a Vector facility in Almondbank, Perthshire, to AgustaWestland's Yeovil facility. About 80 workers will be affected, though AgustaWestland hopes as many as possible will relocate with the contract.
In October 2011 AgustaWestland announced it would cut up to 375 jobs at Yeovil in response to reduced helicopter purchases by the UK Ministry of Defence as well as slowing export sales. The exact number of redundancies will be known in early 2012, but could amount to 10% of the company's UK workforce of 3,600, including 3,400 at Yeovil.
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According to AgustaWestland, Vector's performance has been satisfactory, but as the MoD slims down its fleets the volume of repair and overhaul work is becoming manageable by a plant that assembles the AW101, Super Lynx and AW159 models and is to be increasingly focused on main and tail rotor and transmission development.
In-depth maintenance of the Sea King models is handled by Vector under AgustaWestland's SKIOS - Sea King Integrated Operational Support - contact with the MoD, and this arrangement will not change. AgustaWestland already performs first-line maintenance of search and rescue variant Sea Kings at various UK bases. The Navy does its own first-line maintenance of its MkIV Sea Kings.
The MoD carries out its own Lynx maintenance, with no equivalent of SKIOS. But for the new Lynx Wildcat variant AgustaWestland and the MoD are negotiating details of an arrangement to be called Wildcat Integrated Support and Training (WIST). The first Wildcat is set for delivery in March 2012, for operational use from April 2013.
AgustaWestland's military and civil helicopter business is to be a key strategic focus for parent Finmeccanica, where financial troubles are forcing a sell-off of road and rail transport and energy generation businesses. Details will be revealed soon, but Finmeccanica has spelled out a broad plan to focus on helicopters and aerospace - by merging its Alenia Aeronautica and Alenia Aermacchi divisions - along with defence electronics and security, which will see extensive restructuring of its DRS and Selex businesses.
Vector, which was bought in June 2011 by AgustaWestland rival Eurocopter in a bid to expand the EADS division's service and maintenance business, intends to maintain Almondbank as a "first class multi-platform maintenance, repair and overhaul facility for a blue-chip client base".
Vector UK managing director Mike Tyrrell added that business development plans include "not only new helicopter types but also fixed wing aircraft components and possibly non-aerospace work".
The company will, however, by the end of the third quarter of 2012, close its engine maintenance, repair and overhaul facility at Croydon, London, with the loss of 30 jobs.
Tyrrell said: "We have to face the fact that the Imperial Way site is primarily handling work on Rolls-Royce Conway engines, which power an aircraft type that comes to the end of its life in 2013."
Vector UK is also cutting 20 jobs at its Fleetlands site in Gosport, which works on MoD Chinook, Lynx and Sea King helicopters.