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Britten-Norman brings production back to the UK

After more than 40 years of outsourcing its subassemblies to Romania, the UK's only surviving airframer Britten-Norman is bringing its manufacturing in-house, creating 60 jobs at a new site on the south coast.

The business, based at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, manufactures and supports the Islander twinprop, hundreds of which are in service around the world. However, with orders for the 10-seat passenger aircraft at a virtual standstill, its main activity today is the Defender 4000, a larger and longer-endurance surveillance variant. Britten-Norman builds about four or five a year for government customers, including the British Army.

The new premises are at the Daedalus airfield at Lee-on-the-Solent, near Portsmouth, a former Ministry of Defence site. Britten-Norman will refurbish two existing hangars and be able to use the runway. The headquarters at Bembridge, together with an engineering centre in Southampton and distribution warehouse at London Heathrow, are being retained, although all Defender production and maintenance will move to the new facility.

Britten-Norman was one of the first Western manufacturers to farm production overseas when it contracted Romaero as part of an offset deal in 1968. However, despite previously saying that he was not interested in having "metal bending" in the UK, chief executive William Hynett says enlargement of the European Union and rising manufacturing costs in Romania has "reduced the benefits of this offshore facility" and caused Britten-Norman to "rethink its production strategy".

Together with its maintenance operation, Hynett says the Daedalus facility will help the company "transition from its manufacturing core into a more holistic, multi-site aerospace services led business".

Founded in 1953, Britten-Norman has gone through a succession of owners and financial crises and has been controlled by Oman-based shareholders since 2000. It has delivered more than 1,250 Islanders since the launch of the original piston version in 1965, making the company one of the most prolific manufacturers in Europe.

Bucharest-based structures specialist Romaero carries out work for a number of manufacturers and programmes including the tail boom assembly on the AgustaWestland A109, skins, stringers and fairings for the Airbus A380, and fixed leading-edge polished skins for the Boeing 767 and 777.