Belfast Telegraph

David Cameron to fly in comfort on Craigavon-made seats

By Margaret Canning

Prime Minister David Cameron and his Cabinet colleagues will recline on business-class seats from Craigavon as they travel to a Nato summit today.

The revamped RAF Voyager - nicknamed Cam Force One - will have its maiden flight today when it takes the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to the Nato summit in Warsaw, Poland.

But David Cameron's resignation two weeks ago following the UK's vote to leave the EU means his round-trip to Warsaw is likely to be his first and last experience on Cam Force One.

The Voyager is adapted from an Airbus A330.

Thompson Aero Seating of Portadown provided all the business class seats on the RAF Voyager along with some other linked products and services.

The seats are from Thompson's Vantage range and can spring into a horizontal lie-flat bed. There is an independently adjustable leg rest and an optional massage and lumbar system.

The amount spent by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on the aircraft reached £9.6m.

But the sum spent with Thompson could not be revealed by MoD due to commercial sensitivity. Thompson Aero did not respond to a request for comment on the deal.

However, it's understood the seats accounted for a large proportion of the total cost.

A Ministry of Defence statement said the refit was part of a bid by the MoD to avoid using chartered aircraft to transport ministers and save costs.

The Royal family will also make use of the craft, which will be based at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

The MoD said: "The new seating will allow it to transport sizeable business delegations of the type the PM has successfully led to India and China.

"The aircraft will also be available for the Royal family for official overseas visits undertaken at the request of the government."

The RAF Voyager fleet is used for transporting fuel to other craft, as well as long haul carriage of passengers and freight.

The use of one of the Voyager aircraft for the VIP role is an expansion of the original role and it will continue to provide air to air refuelling capability.

Ministers have said it will save taxpayers around £775,000 a year on the use of chartered flights.

Thompson Aero Seating, which also produces seats for Aer Lingus, Malaysia Airlines and more, had pre-tax profits of £13.7m - up nearly 30% - in its most recent results. Turnover rose 25% to £64.9m in the year to March 31.

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 previous year. 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 777s 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.

The company's current CEO is Gary Montgomery.

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

Belfast Telegraph