AgustaWestland hopes to build civilian helicopter in Somerset

AgustaWestland hopes to build its new civilian helicopter at its Somerset site as part of the company’s shift away from the defence market.

The Anglo-Italian company used this week’s Farnborough Airshow to announce its intention to build the search and rescue configuration of the AW189 in Yeovil, if the company is part of the winning contract to supply the UK’s new commercial search helicopters.

This would mean up to 450 jobs out of a total of 1,500 expected to result from the AW189 programme would be based at the Yeovil site, which is already producing key components for the first batch of the new helicopters.

The move is part of AgustaWestland’s strategy to expand its civil business following defence spending cuts by western countries, a plan that last year led to the announcement of up to 375 redundancies in its UK business.

‘Manufacturers need to leverage what the commercial helicopter market can offer worldwide, in addition to what the emerging countries can offer on the military side,’ an AgustaWestland spokesperson told The Engineer.

The UK government is expected to award its search and rescue contract to a private operator in March 2013, following the decision to end military control of the service, and AgustaWestland hopes the AW189 will be part of the winning bid.

The first move by the company’s UK operation into the civil helicopter market came last year when it received £32m of government funding to secure the production at Yeovil of components for the AW169.

But Yeovil is set to remain a predominantly military facility for the foreseeable future thanks to several military contracts, including a £250m deal to fund the building of Lynx Wildcat helicopters and production of components for the AW149.

‘What we aim to do in the future, particularly in the next two years, is balance that pressure, reaching something like 60 per cent of activity dedicated to the Ministry of Defence programmes, and 40 per cent to export military and commercial markets,’ said the spokesperson.