A world-class civilian helicopter hub is to be created in Yeovil, securing 3,000 jobs with the potential to create hundreds more after the Government pledged £46m to AgustaWestland. Rob Golledge reports on a new dawn for the firm...
A new era of civilian aircraft engineering for south Somerset’s biggest employer was declared on Friday as it was announced £100 million would be ploughed into AgustaWestland’s Yeovil factory.
The Anglo-Italian manufacturer will establish a cutting-edge helicopter design and development centre, as well as a commercial assembly line at the Lysander Road plant.
It will see the creation of a new industry in the UK.
The Government will inject £46m into the project, which will safeguard 3,000 jobs in the town.
The deal means additional funds worth more than £50m will be pumped into the Yeovil site from AgustaWestland’s owner Finmeccanica, which is part-owned by the Italian government.
It will see the company move away from its traditional reliance on military aircraft contracts such as the Sea King, Lynx and Merlin helicopters.
The new fleet will target the commercial and so-called “parapublic” markets – which include police, air ambulance and search and rescue contracts.
The company’s top engineers will look to advance plans for a combined aeroplane and helicopter – the AW609 – which can take off and land vertically by using tilting rotors.
The development of the AW189, which is being touted as the replacement for the country’s search and rescue helicopters, is also pivotal.
If it is successful in being chosen as the UK’s new generation of search and rescue helicopters, there are grand plans for it to become the first civilian aircraft to be exported from the UK in decades.
Potential exports have been valued at £2bn, creating 450 jobs in Yeovil and 1,000 in the supply chain sector.
Ray Edwards, managing director at AgustaWestland, said the announcement marked a new era for the company and Britain’s aerospace industry.
He said: “This funding and the investment being made by AgustaWestland will enable the UK to become a key player in the growing commercial rotorcraft sector.”
He added: “It is this type of positive collaboration of industry and the Government that will help create a long-term strategy and a shared vision for UK aerospace.”
Bruno Spagnolini, AgustaWestland chief executive, thanked Yeovil MP David Laws for his help in securing the funding via the Regional Growth Fund.
He said Mr Edwards and AgustaWestland chairman Graham Cole had become a “formidable team”.
“This marks a major milestone in the development of AgustaWestland in the UK,” he said.
“Yeovil and the UK are a major part of the future of our company as we make AgustaWestland the finest helicopter company in the world.”
Mr Cole added: “It became clear some time ago that a reliance on military contracts would not be sufficient to maintain a facility of this size here.
“We put together a plan to serve the civil and parapublic markets. This is the fruition of years of planning.”
Mr Laws hailed the announcement as a “game-changer”.
He said: “This is wonderful news for AgustaWestland and for the economy of Yeovil and south Somerset.
“ This is a real game-changer for Yeovil – and is one of the most important announcements made during my 11 years as MP for Yeovil.
“AgustaWestland is already one of the world’s top defence aerospace companies, and now we have a real chance to create a massive new civil helicopter business for Somerset and for Britain.”
WHAT THE DEAL MEANS TO YOU
The saying goes: “When Westland sneezes, Yeovil catches a cold.”
As well as the bad times, it rings true during the good times too.
The announcement that £100m will be invested to create a world-leading civil helicopter hub in the town will not only see 3,300 jobs sustained at the Yeovil plant but eventually the creation on 450 others.
One thousand jobs will also be created in the supply chain industry.
AgustaWestland contracts support a further 10,000 jobs, including 650 small and medium-sized enterprises – many of which are based in the South West.
The helicopter firm’s presence in the town sees other aviation and engineering companies located nearby, including BAE Systems, GKN and Honeywell, all in Yeovil, and Thales in Templecombe.
This significant presence in south Somerset not only maintains thousands of jobs but supports the local economy by sustaining an employed workforce who use the district’s restaurants, shops and facilities.
These companies bring businessmen and women into the area, creating passing trade for local hotels, eateries and outlets.