[0] GKN Sale Signals End for UK Helicopter Industry

Article excerpt

Byline: ROBERT LEA

BRITAIN is set to lose its last helicopter manufacturing business. GKN revealed today it plans to sell its 50% stake in AgustaWestland, a holding reckoned to be worth as much as [pounds sterling]1.2 billion.

In a surprise statement at GKN's annual meeting, outgoing chairman Sir David Lees said: "As part of the further development of the group, it is now timely to advise shareholders that negotiations are in progress concerning the possible sale of GKN's 50% shareholding in AgustaWestland to Finmeccanica, the other 50% shareholder in the business."

The sale would bring to an end British involvement in the ownership of the helicopter industry, an ongoing story which created one of the single greatest controversies of Margaret Thatcher's 11-year administration, ending famously in the acrimonious resignation of Michael Heseltine as Defence Secretary in 1986.

News of the sale also comes just weeks after it was revealed that Britain's Vickers business, maker of the Challenger tank, is to be sold to America's General Dynamics.

Lees indicated the sale of Westland, maker of Super Lynx and Apache helicopters for the military, and the besti n - class EH101 military and commercial helicopter, was a result of ongoing poor performance at the company.

In his statement to shareholders, he said GKN's underlying pre-tax profits this year will be "somewhat below that of last year" blaming in part "the lower level of profits in AgustaWestland". …