UK helicopter production under threat, Unite warns MPs

UK helicopter production under threat, Unite warns MPs

23 January 2017

Probing questions need to be asked about the future of UK helicopter production when MPs debate the industry tomorrow (Tuesday 24 January).

Unite, the country’s largest union, has been pressing MPs on the industry’s future, following Leonardo losing out to Boeing in its bid to gain the majority of the work for the latest generation of Apache attack helicopters for the British army last summer.

The Westminster Hall debate will be held between 11.00-11.30 tomorrow and will be led by Yeovil’s MP Marcus Fysh.

In November, Unite hit out at the ‘wholescale betrayal’ of the Yeovil GKN workforce, with 221 jobs under threat, when the plant’s closure by the end of 2017 was announced.

GKN workers make airframes for Italian-owned Leonardo Helicopters - formerly AgustaWestland which is on the same site – and GKN said that Leonardo has decided to take all future AW159 Wild Cat work ‘in house’.

Unite regional officer Heathcliffe Pettifer said: “It is very appropriate in the week when the government’s industrial strategy is unveiled that MPs debate the future of the helicopter industry which suffered a severe blow with the GKN announcement in November.

“If ministers are serious about a strong manufacturing base in the UK, they need to give serious attention to British helicopter production which is world class with a highly skilled and motivated workforce.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating and last year’s decision when Leonardo lost out to Boeing, which gained the majority of the work for the latest generation of Apache attack helicopters, does not generate confidence.”

Unite is urging MPs to consider the following pertinent questions:

•    What was the ‘value added’ aspect when awarding the Apache contract to Boeing? Leonardo is the only UK site that can design, build and maintain helicopters, therefore how does this decision fit in with a modern industrial strategy?

•    Will a transparent cost benefit analysis be undertaken prior to any redeployment of the ‘tooling and jigs’ used at GKN aerospace for 159 Wildcat builds?

•    GKN is winding down the site prior to closure, due to Leonardo bringing the Wildcat work back ‘in house’. The concern is that the jigs and tooling will be off shored, possibly to Italy or Poland, rather than kept in the UK. Unite understands the licence/ownership of the assets – jig and tooling - belongs to the Ministry of Defence

•    Will state aid be made available to pump prime future UK projects (research, design & build) on the Yeovil site? The UK facility has no issues in regards to overcapacity in the sector or competition.

Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Email: 

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.