Farnborough Air Show

Sales surge as GKN defies downturn

 - July 18, 2010, 10:41 PM

GKN Aerospace has surfed into the Farnborough airshow on a wave of more than $1.5 billion worth of development and production contracts signed in recent months. The UK-based group says the new business will take it well “into the next decade and beyond.”

In February and March, GKN signed deals worth a total of $300 million for composite winglets for the Bombardier C Series regional jet and for components for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter. This was followed by two 10-year long-term agreements (LTAs) with Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney, respectively; a five-year LTA with GE Aviation; and a “life of program” contract with Airbus on the A350XWB. The specific values of these deals were not disclosed.

The company will manufacture parts for Rolls-Royce Trent 700 and 1000 engines at its El Cajon, California factory. The deal with Pratt & Whitney is for supplying, through 2020, critical engine components for the F135 engine, also at El Cajon. Airbus Bremen awarded the company a contract for A350 XWB composite inboard flap components and Fokker Aerostructures another, for outboard flap parts. For GE Aviation, GKN will manufacture components for the GEnx-1B, CFM56 and GP7200 turbofans.

So while the two years since the 2008 Farnborough show certainly have not been a time of boom, they have not been a bust for the group. Financial results for the first quarter suggest that 2010 will be a fairly stable year for GKN.

At a pre-Farnborough show press briefing, GKN’s instinctively bearish CEO, Marcus Bryson, declared himself delighted to have been proved wrong about the potential impact of the recession on the aerospace sector. In fact, he maintained the industry has been more resilient than expected to the extent that the long-anticipated steep downturn in airliner output has not materialized and probably will not materialize.

Meanwhile, GKN has continued to invest in its future and, even in the shorter term, still believes it can achieve its next major strategic goal of doubling the size of its business (for the second time in recent history) over the next five years. The UK-based group’s board has the appetite and means for further acquisitions and substantial commitments to long-term research and development.

“Our investments in advanced composites technology have transformed our business,” said Bryson. “We now have customers coming to us primarily because of the technology we can offer.”

Among the more recent converts to GKN’s capabilities are BAE Systems, Boeing and Rolls-Royce. The group is heavily involved in aerostructures, engines, nacelles, fuel tanks, helicopter flotation systems and transparencies.

It is the emergence of new-generation airliner programs, such as the envisioned replacements for the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737, that are a primary focus of GKN’s intensive research and development efforts.

GKN’s new technical director, Richard Oldfield, has been tasked with a mission to ensure that the company is at the cutting edge of emerging, disruptive technologies such as low-drag, laminate-flow wings and improved ice protection work (such as the electrothermal unit it has developed for the 787). At the same time, he wants to maintain what GKN claims to be a leadership position in advanced composites, such as those use to make the wing trailing edges for the A350 wing.