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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 12:57 GMT
Westland closes factory
Westland production line
Orders have dried up at Westland Helicopters
Westland Helicopters has confirmed it is to cut 950 jobs and close one of its Somerset factories.

About 5,000 staff were called to a briefing on the restructuring at 1100 GMT on Thursday.

The Weston-super-Mare plant will close with the loss of 350 jobs with another 600 office and production workers going at the main site in Yeovil.

The Weston site carries out customer support work which will be tranferred to Yeovil.

One worker said: "It's disappointing, especially straight after Christmas. But you need orders, don't you?"

Merlin EH101 helicopter
More than a dozen countries bought Merlins
Another said: "The morale of the workforce is down, especially on the shop floor."

Before Christmas, about 200 Westland staff responded to a call for people to take voluntary redundancy.

The company, which makes the Lynx, Apache, and EH101 Merlin helicopters, merged with an Italian partner Agusta in 1999.

Orders have dried up in the last year, with a large order to supply Merlins to the RAF and Royal Navy likely to be completed by spring.

Sister firms

A senior executive of the joint company, Agusta Westland, was due to address the mass meeting on Thursday.

The 4,500 workers at Yeovil feared the bulk of any remaining work could be concentrated in Italy.

Production workers
Workers have been briefed on restructuring
The restructuring is also expected to affect Westland's smaller sister companies, Westland Transmissions and Westland Industrial Products.

Last week GKN, part-owner of Westland, announced 70 redundancies at its Yeovil-based structures division, which makes components for Westland.

In late 2001 Westland received an order from Portugal for 12 Merlins.

The Portuguese Government chose the EH101 helicopter in favour of a similar American model, even though it cost more.

In September, Westland signed a 230m deal to supply Denmark with 14 of the aircraft.

Radio deal

The two orders came through shortly after shift work was cut at the Yeovil plant.

At the time, unions warned jobs would be lost unless the company found new buyers.

In July, Westland was part of a consortium that secured a 100m contract to produce new radio equipment for the armed forces.

It said the order would help safeguard 120 jobs and protect the future of the Weston-super-Mare plant.

Chairman's honour

The Duke of Edinburgh toured the Yeovil production line in March last year, arriving in a Merlin.

Westland chairman Richard Case received a CBE in the last New Year's Honours, for services to the defence and aerospace industries.

Any switch of work overseas might strain Yeovil's relations with Samarate, Agusta's home in northern Italy.

The two towns were twinned in 2001, recognising 20 years of working together.

See also:

10 Jan 02 | England
Westland to cut hundreds of jobs
26 Jul 00 | Business
Westland merger confirmed
18 Mar 99 | The Company File
Westland helicopter merger flies
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