Belfast Telegraph

Flying high...

Northern Ireland is a global leader says boss after £10m investment

By Clare Weir

The head of a aircraft seating firm which has just announced a £10m investment and 85 new jobs has said that local ownership and values has helped win contracts with top customers like Delta and Qantas.

Portadown-based Thompson Aero Seating is a global leader in lie-flat business-class seats for the commercial airline sector.

The firm was founded by James Thompson in 2001 after an uncomfortable sleep on a long-haul flight – and the lie-flat seat, now standard in most business-class cabins, was born.

More than 50 of the new roles have been filled, with the headcount eventually expected to reach around 200.

The new jobs, supported by a £1.7m boost from Invest Northern Ireland, will generate around £3.5m in salaries every year, with the average wage just over £40,000.

Gary Montgomery, chief executive officer at Thompson Aero Seating, said that with air traffic expected to double in the next 15 years, the company aimed to grow sales by over £40m in the next two years and with a strong order book, that target was certainly within reach.

"The fact that we are independent and have a family ethos means that we can have a personal relationship with each customer," he said.

"The company was founded to serve one client and now we have around 20.

"Of course these clients all want something different – no two airlines will want the same thing. We allow for customisation and we have built our reputation on making essential parts to suit individual needs in short timescales and we pride ourselves on the reliability of our products and the aftercare services that we offer."

He said the region was gaining recognition around the world for the quality of its work in the aviation and aerospace industries .

"Northern Ireland as a location is renowned for its engineering skills and we are becoming even more renowned in the aerospace industry.

"We have huge confidence in our workers and in the local supply chain. We have a significant order book – airlines are always investing and making long-term revisions and upgrades.

"There are a number of new projects in the pipeline and we hope to keep expanding."

Mr Montgomery said that despite a slew of acquisitions of home-grown Northern Ireland companies by global investors in recent weeks, there were no plans to move the company out of local ownership.

One of the firm's recent big contracts was announced in May, when it revealed a €10m (£8.2m) three-year deal to supply Aer Lingus with Thompson Vantage XL lie-flat seats.

The products will debut on Aer Lingus's recently launched Dublin-to-San Francisco route.

Last week it emerged that Kilkeel firm B/E Aerospace, which makes plane seats and other cabin apparatus, would be split into a separate firm by its American parent rather than sold off, easing fears of job losses among the 800 workers.

Belfast Telegraph

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