Westland ahead despite setbacks

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The Independent Online
WESTLAND, the West Country helicopter manufacturer, yesterday demonstrated robustness in the face of recession and defence cuts by reporting a 10 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to pounds 26.3m in the year ended 2 October.

The increase came despite a 10 per cent decline in turnover to pounds 422m, a halving of helicopter deliveries and a slowdown in orders from civil aircraft manufacturers as a result of the decline in air travel.

The market reacted positively, marking Westland shares up 3p to a close of 116p.

During the year Westland's order book was swollen by pounds 1.2bn with the signing of contracts to supply the EH101 helicopter to the Royal Navy and the Canadian defence forces. Deliveries of 44 Merlin versions of the EH101 to the Navy will begin in 1995.

But Westland has set its sights on breaking into the commercial and offshore oil markets with a civil variant of the helicopter. Potential orders are put at 250, worth more than pounds 3bn.

Alan Jones, chief executive, said Westland expected to receive its first order from a North Sea operator in the next 12 to 18 months.

Talks are taking place with several companies, including Bristow, British International Helicopters, KLM of the Netherlands and the Norwegian group Helikopter Service.

Westland also plans to offer the EH101 to the Ministry of Defence as a support helicopter for use by rapid reaction forces. Britain, the Netherlands and Italy have a requirement for up 50 helicopters.

The MoD is expected to decide next year whether to go ahead with an order. The EH101 will be in competition with the Chinook and the French-built Puma.

Exceptional items, mainly related to redundancy costs, fell from pounds 7m in 1991 to pounds 3.8m and Mr Jones said he did not envisage significant reductions next year in the 8,500-strong workforce.

A final dividend of 3p was recommended, lifting the payout for the year by 6 per cent to 4.5p.