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£5.2m investment for firm in jobs blackspot

A Co Down aircraft seat company is creating 49 highly skilled jobs in a turnaround for a town of high unemployment.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster yesterday announced the £5.2m investment by Kilkeel company Thompson Aero Seating, which develops patented aircraft seating designs for major airlines. It has already secured engineering contracts worth £1.6m with airlines around the world.

Invest NI has offered £875,000 of support towards the investment, which will enable Thompson Aero Seating to commercialise their new seating designs for export.

The news comes less than a year after 88 redundancies at B/E Aerospace, another manufacturer of aircraft seating in Kilkeel.

SDLP councillor Sean Rogers said the announcement was good news for Kilkeel. “It’s very welcome considering the high unemployment in the town. Fair dues to the people in this company who have been proactive in seeking new business and preparing for an upturn in the economy.

“Kilkeel has been dependent on construction, fishing and farming, all sectors which have suffered a downturn, so it is great to see engineering jobs in the town.”

The support is also expected to help the company take on new staff to manage product modification for customer orders and set up a product assembly operation.

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Minister Foster said: “This is a significant investment from Thompson Aero Seating. The products designed are highly innovative and have the potential to revolutionise the global civil aircraft seating market, generating over $34m in export sales.

“By commercialising the seating, which also benefits from having a design protected by patent, the company will not just enhance its market position and create employment, but bolster the credibility and reputation of Northern Ireland’s aerospace sector as a whole.”

James Thompson, vice-president of Thompson Aero Seating, said: “We have worked hard to research and |develop a new level of passenger comfort and design in aircraft seating, and this investment will enhance our production capability and ensure that we not only attract and secure orders from the world’s major airlines, but can fulfil them much faster.”

The news follows last Friday’s announcement of 85 new IT jobs at L&T Infotech, an Indian company which will set up its European service centre in Belfast.

But the LT Infotech jobs boost came on the heels of up to 85 job losses announced at Foyle Meats in Campsie, Co Londonderry.

Meanwhile, the number of unemployment benefit claimants in Northern Ireland went up slightly last month to 55,500. The claimant count in Kilkeel, which has a population of around 3,000, is estimated to have risen from around 50 to 480 in the past few years.