China flies in to take front seat at leading exporter

Chinese authorities spend billions across the world annually buying up foreign firms

ONE of Northern Ireland's most successful exporters has been sold to a Chinese government-backed investment group.

Thompson Aero Seating is based at Seagoe industrial estate in Portadown and specialises in premium business class chairs for planes.

The firm said it had plans to expand its base in the north to keep up with growing demand following the multi-million pound takeover.

The business has reached an agreement to be bought by Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) although the purchase is subject to regulatory approvals.

AVIC is a large enterprise with investment authorisation managed by central Chinese government.

It has partnered in the acquisition with CNIC Corporation, an investment company owned by the Chinese state which aims to facilitate international cooperation as a financial investor.

The deal is just the latest example of a Chinese acquisition overseas with the country likely to overtake the United States as the world's greatest foreign investor in 2016.

Another included the purchase of Toomebridge firm SDC Trailers and its parent Retlan Group by CIMC in June.

According to analysts at Mergermarket Group, China had already surpassed its yearly record for outbound mergers and acquisitions by the end of August with 173 deals worth $128.7 billion (£103.6bn) secured.

Traditionally interested in acquiring resource and energy firms, Chinese authorities are increasingly seeking opportunities in the technology, industrial and chemical sectors it has been reported.

A spokeswoman for Thompson Aero Seating said the deal allowed the firm become part of a broader offering of cabin interior products.

She said that “being underpinned by a strong industrial backer in AVIC will serve to consolidate our continued growth in Northern Ireland. The company expects to expand its current capacity to fulfil its fast growing order book.”

Earlier this year, Thompson reported a major upsurge in sales with turnover growing 25 per cent to £64.9 million in the year to March 2016.

Profits before tax, meanwhile, rose 29 per cent to £13.7m.

The firm employs around 285 people and develops cutting edge airline seats including its Vantage and CozySuite concepts.

Customers include some of the world's best known airlines such as Swiss, Delta, Qantas, American Airlines and Air Canada.

In 2011, Thompson opened new manufacturing facilities at Seagoe Industrial Estate, which now extend to 10,000 sq m.

Among the firm's most recent deals was the signing of an agreement with manufacturer Airbus.

It means the Thompson Vantage and Vantage XL products will be officially offered by Airbus on A320 and A330 family of products.

It formalised a relationship with Airbus that began in 2012 with the delivery of the JetBlue 'Mint' business class suite to the Airbus final assembly line in Hamburg. More recently for Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), the Thompson Vantage XL was installed on the A330 platform in Toulouse with several other programmes under way.

Thompson was among more than 20 high-worth firms from the north feature in the London Stock Exchange's '1000 Companies to Inspire Britain' report, pinpointing firms which collectively are growing at an average annual rate of 25 per cent.

AVIC has more than 100 subsidiaries employing between them 45,000 people.

The deal means Northern Ireland's two plane seat makers will have been sold with a year.

In October, Kilkeel-based manufacturer B/E Aerospace was acquired US company Rockwell Collins as part of a $8.3 billion (£6.8bn) deal.

The firm employs around 800 people at its south Down plant making seats and various other in-cabin products.

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