Belfast Telegraph

Co Armagh aircraft seating maker doubles profits and eyes first-class deal

By Margaret Canning

A Co Armagh aeroplane seats firm has reported a more than doubling of pre-tax profits to over £10m as it looks forward to its first deal for first-class seating.

Thompson Aero Seating in Portadown also reported a growth in its workforce from to 364 to 739. The business makes seats for clients including Aer Lingus, Delta Air Lines, China Eastern and Philippine Airlines.

Its increase in pre-tax profits was partly down to a change in its reporting period from nine months for the previous period to a full year in 2017.

Turnover had also doubled from £52m to £105m.

And chief executive Gary Montgomery - who's been with the firm for seven years after starting his career at Bombardier in Belfast - said it's now contemplating a move to new purpose-built premises in Portadown.

At the moment it has two premises, in Seagoe Industrial Estate and in Banbridge, Co Down, where much of its engineering and development takes place.

The firm's most high-profile contracts have been for business class seating.

But Mr Montgomery told the Belfast Telegraph: "We now have our first deal for first-class seats for an airline, which will mean delivering a much more sophisticated product." The name of the customer is still under wraps.

And he said Brexit was a concern to the firm, despite its growth.

"There's always a lot of uncertainty over how Brexit might affect any business," he said.

"It would be ignorant to say we're not worried, as it will have some effect."

The industry was frequently buffeted by trends in macro-economics - but he said even downturns could work in its favour.

If airlines were making economies, it could mean deals for the retro-fitting of craft to increase density by fitting more seats on the planes.

He said its takeover by Chinese giant Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) Group two years had been beneficial.

"It has been extremely positive. The Chinese owner takes a very long-term view and they're very supportive of our efforts."

He added: "Over the past couple of years we have been extremely successful in the marketplace and built a very very strong order book.

"We have brought business class seats to a first-class level so it's given us quite an increase in our sales intake and a very healthy order book."

Its 2017 order for Vantage XL business class seating with Delta had been a major success. "That was the first-ever business class seat where every seat had a suite door. It's led to a very high load factor and very high satisfaction levels."

The company is currently recruiting 14 roles including for maintenance, electrical design and mechanical design engineers. But Mr Montgomery said staff expansion could be even greater if airlines decided to ramp up production.

And he said the absence of an Executive was not hampering the company's progress.

"Its not a focus for us to go looking for support from the Executive. There's no major decisions we have been hamstrung on by the lack of Executive."

Belfast Telegraph

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