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AgustaWestland multi-million expansion could create 1,500 new jobs

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: October 02, 2012

AgustaWestland’s new ‘family’ of commercial helicopters made their first public appearance at the Farnborough International Airshow this summer

AgustaWestland’s new ‘family’ of commercial helicopters made their first public appearance at the Farnborough International Airshow this summer

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Aerospace firm AgustaWestland is poised to win tens of millions of pounds of Government money to transform it into one of the world’s foremost helicopter makers.

The huge investment will not only sustain the existing 3,500 workforce in Yeovil, Somerset, but potentially create over time another 1,500 jobs in the supply chain.

The company declined to comment on the likely value of any deal but it is understood to be in talks with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and a decision is expected by the end of the month.

It comes as AgustaWestland reveals profits of £1.1bn, despite complaining that Downing Street’s spending cuts programme had hit its profits.

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A Government cash grant would help set up a production line for the AW189, the aircraft with which AgustaWestland is bidding to win a lucrative Department for Transport order for up to 24 search and rescue helicopters.

The AW189 is just one of a portfolio of civil helicopters which the company has to offer and a grant from the Goverment’s much-maligned Regional Growth Fund would help it strengthen this arm of its business.

The Fund is an invention of the Coalition Government aimed at supporting projects with significant potential for economic growth that can create jobs.

But it has come under fire recently for not delivering cash to companies it has promised to support, and for being too time-consuming to deal with.

The chairman of the body overseeing the regional growth fund is Lord Heseltine, the Defence Secretary forced to quit when he divided the Conservative Government in a bitter dispute over the future of Westland in the 1980s.

AgustaWestland, the British defence division of Italian parent company Finnmeccanica, would more than match the grant which would help it develop its commercial arm, fly by wire technology and exciting new tilt rotor work which it is sharing with Finnmeccanica’s Italian base.

The order AW189 is seen as the springboard for a potentially huge export market.

Graham Cole, AgustaWestland’s chairman said: “We are hoping to hear on the UK search and rescue order early next year. The first order from the UK will be terrific but then we hope for more than 200 search and rescue helicopters around the world and they will come from Yeovil, which is terrific. I think we are on the cusp of something that could be really very significant. There are three pillars of the business. One is the UK Ministry of Defence, the other is international ministries of defence and the third is the civil commercial sector.”

AgustaWestland’s rival for the search and rescue contract is America’s Sikorsky. An announcement is expected in the new year. The company will complete its order of 62 Wildcats for the UK Armed Forces by 2016. Mr Cole said other MOD contracts will be placed which, “while not on the scale of the Wildcat are important to us,” while significant new Wildcat orders are coming on the international side.”

Mr Cole has just become chairman of CBI South West. Education and the development of apprenticeships across the region will be among his projects.

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