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Thursday, March 18, 1999 Published at 12:39 GMT

Business: The Company File

Westland helicopter merger flies

Westland hopes the new venture will get off to a flying start

The Westland helicopter firm is going to merge with its Italian rival company Agusta.

The deal will create one of the largest helicopter deals in the world and marks the latest stage in the consolidation of the European aerospace and defence industry.

[ image: Europe's aerospace and defence industry is consolidating rapidly]
Europe's aerospace and defence industry is consolidating rapidly
The two groups announced last year that they were holding merger talks.

Westland is the only British helicopter manufacturer and has a strong presence in the military market, producing a host of army and navy choppers including Super Lynx, Apache craft and the EH101, developed jointly with Agusta.

The companies said in a joint statement that the venture would produce a "broad range of civil and defence products, a strong order book and an exciting programme of new products and technologies in advanced stages of development."

Welcome news

[ image: Westland's West Country workers are safe]
Westland's West Country workers are safe
The news was welcomed by the UK Government.

George Robertson, defence secretary, said: "This announcement is an important step in the process of consolidation in Europe's aerospace and defence industry.

"It also demonstrates the excellent relationship between industries in the UK and Italy and underlines the close links between both countries across the wider defence spectrum.

Westland Helicopters has an order book of US$6.3bn (£4bn, 5.7bn euros) and employs 4,800 people in western England.

Jobs not under threat

A spokeswoman for GKN said the deal would not threaten the jobs of Westland's staff based at Yeovil and Weston-super-Mare.

However, the group is now unlikely to hire any more workers to deal with its growing order book - having recently taken on an extra 500 people.

Agusta has an order book of US$2.2bn and employs 5,200 people.

The board of the joint venture is expected to comprise an equal number of GKN and Finmeccanica representatives.

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Westland Helicopters

Finmeccanica (Agusta's parent company)

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