Paris Air Show

A350XWB inspires Latécoère to expand

 - June 14, 2007, 9:33 AM

Leading French equipment maker Latécoère may take over one of the three sites for which Airbus is seeking a strategic industrial partnership under its Power8 plan. At the same time, it may also open a new division to manufacture composite panels for the European airframer’s new A350XWB airliner.

Despite the impact of production delays in the A380 program, Toulouse-based Latécoère is this year celebrating its centenary with results for last year that it described as “very satisfactory.” However, it has also acknowledged that a restructuring exercise appears necessary if the group wants to be involved in both new Airbus programs

President and CEO François Bertrand told Aviation International News that Latécoère is “interested” in taking over Airbus’ Méaulte plant in northern France. Along with Filton in the UK and Nordenham in Germany, Méaulte will manufacture the A350’s nose cone. Airbus is seeking “industrial partners” for all three sites and hopes to conclude draft agreements next month.

Bertrand stressed that the final decision will depend essentially on Airbus’ technological choices for the future A350XWB, such as the extent to which composites will replace aluminum in the nose section of the airframe. A partnership agreement could cost Latécoère an estimated ?300 million ($399 million) to take over the factory, plus a further ?150 million ($199 million) in investments and an unspecified sum in A350 development costs.

Meanwhile, Latécoère also is considering a major investment in composite panels for the A350XWB at its Nantes facility in western France. A dilemma lies in the question of whether the company can both expand its Nantes site for an activity in which it has the know-how and does not need outside investors, and at the same time invest in Airbus’ Méaulte factory and become more involved in the A350 program. Complicating the issue further is the fact that unions at the Méaulte factory, which employs 1,200 people, are determined to ensure that Airbus continues to run it.

Founded by Pierre-Georges Latécoère in 1907, the group’s growth strategy is based on risk-sharing partnerships in aerostructures with the production of fuselage sections and doors, as well as onboard wiring, avionics bays and onboard equipment made by its LATelec subsidiary. The group also works with Boeing, Dassault Aviation, Embraer and Bombardier.

LATelec has supplied avionics bays for the A330/340 and A380 aircraft families and is in charge of the optical onboard equipment for the A350XWB. In April it delivered its first systems for the Airbus A400M military transport aircraft.

Latécoère last year reported a 22-percent increase in consolidated revenue to ?432.7 million ($575.5 million), beating its own target of 20 percent. Net profits stood at ?19.2 million ($25.5 million), a fall of 6.3 percent compared to 2005. Its ?1.5 billion ($1.9 billion) firm order backlog represents more than three years of production.

According to the company, the postponement of A380 deliveries was offset by increased output for other Airbus programs and especially the A320 and A330, as well as for Embraer’s regional jets and the new Dassault Falcon 7X business jet. Two thirds of revenues come from aerostructures, a further 29 percent comes from Latécoère’s activity in onboard wiring and systems, and 5 percent of income comes from engineering services, including research, design and the manufacture of tooling. The company expects to increase revenues by around 10 percent this year.