GKN Sale Signals End for UK Helicopter Industry
Byline: ROBERT LEA
BRITAIN'S pre-eminence in helicopter design and manufacturing is set to end, as GKN is likely to sell its 50% stake in AgustaWestland, a holding said to be worth up to [pounds sterling]1.2 billion.
In a surprise statement at its annual meeting, GKN's 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 in the 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 tanks business, manufacturer of the Challenger tank, is to be sold off to the Americans, in the form of General Dynamics.
Lees indicated that the sale of Yeovil, Somerset-based Westland, maker of Super Lynx and Apache helicopters for the military, and the best-in-class EH101 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". …