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Co Antrim plane seat firm flying high after its profits soar by 30% to £13.7m

By Margaret Canning

Published 09/06/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster on a visit to Thompson Aero with CEO Gary Montgomery
First Minister Arlene Foster on a visit to Thompson Aero with CEO Gary Montgomery

Co Armagh plane seat manufacturer Thompson Aero Seating has reported a 25% jump in turnover to £64.9m.

The Portadown company, which produces seats for Aer Lingus, Malaysia Airlines and more, had pre-tax profits of £13.7m - up nearly 30%.

Its results emerged as figures from HMRC showed a 9% increase in exports from Northern Ireland to £6.6bn in the year to March 2016. There was a 27.5% leap in manufacturing exports to non-EU countries, from £2.5m to £3.1m.

Thompson Aero's category of machinery and transport equipment was the strongest performer - accounting for £2.3bn of exports, up 1.8%.

But exports to EU countries were down 3.6% to £3.6bn, including a 6.7% slump in goods sold to the republic.

Northern Ireland and England were the only two UK nations to show an increase in exports over the period.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of lobby group Manufacturing NI, said that while the increase was "very positive", the details gave rise to concerns.

"Fewer companies are exporting and we are increasingly dependent on large firms and high-value contracts for growth," he explained

He claimed the fall in EU exports could be down to the strength of sterling.

"The EU sales confirms our concerns, reported by the Belfast Telegraph last, year about the impact exchange rates were having and the importance of driving costs down to remain competitive," Mr Kelly said.

"Manufacturing exporters are sensitive to cost and this was pronounced with such high shifts in currency valuations."

He said that the relevance of the figures to either side of the Brexit debate were for "politicians to argue about". But he added: "What manufacturers are telling us is that putting up barriers and increasing costs for exporters into a market which is more than 50% of our export sales does not appear to be an attractive nor productive way to grow our economy."

His intervention came as a strategic report accompanying Thompson Aero's results for the year ending March 2016 described them as "encouraging".

The firm's headcount was 285 - up 27% on the year before. While there was no further detail on turnover, the highest-paid director got £395,128.

Over the year to March, Thompson seating was installed in a new fleet of Boeing 777 belonging to SWISS. Its Vantage XL seat was also chosen by RwandAir for its Airbus A330.

Thompson, which is based in Seagoe Industrial Park, was founded by James Thompson, though he sold all his shares.

Along with B/E Aerospace in Kilkeel, Co Down, it is one of two major aeroplane seat manufacturers in Northern Ireland.

In 2014, the firm won investment of £1.7m from Invest NI to help create 85 jobs - part of a total investment of £10m.

Belfast Telegraph

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