Seat-maker Thompson cuts losses and says 'clear direction lies ahead'

Thompson Aero Seating in Portadown is back in growth mode after the pandemic
Thompson Aero Seating in Portadown is back in growth mode after the pandemic

THE Covid pandemic cost Thompson Aero Seating around £50 million in lost sales last year, its latest accounts reveal.

But the Craigavon company, which designs and manufactures business class seats for commercial airlines, believes it has come through the worst of the crisis and has "a clear direction for growth".

And as the aerospace sector begins its recovery from the effects of the global pandemic, it emerged that projected job losses at the Chinese-owned company weren't as significant as it feared.

Accounts filed at Companies House show that Thompson Aero Seating's turnover decreased from £181 million in 2019 to £132 million last year, primarily due to deferrals of some customer orders.

The accounts shows that, although Thompson Aero Seating ended 2020 with a loss before tax of £57 million, this was less than half that of 2019, which it says is evidence of how hard the company has worked to recover.

"When viewed alongside the impact of the worldwide pandemic that temporarily paralysed the aircraft industry, to halve the loss under such conditions has been a considerable achievement," the directors said.

Thompson, with the immediate impact of the pandemic on the aerospace industry facing it, began a major transformation of the business in 2020, entitled ‘Project Phoenix’, which continues into 2021.

Senior management and shareholders recognised that the company needed to refocus and streamline if it were to recover successfully and maintain its position as an industry leader in airline seat design and manufacture.

It says the job losses that followed this decision, albeit implemented reluctantly, were necessary, and the current 2021 recruitment activity under way shows, from the quality of roles advertised, the direction in which the transformation is taking the company.

The accounts show that the average number of employees at Thompson at the end of 2020 was 1,087 - just over 100 fewer than the previous year's payroll of 1,188.

During the year, the company reduced its wages bill from £50.6m to £41.8m. It paid three directors a total of £496,000 (the package for the highest-paid of the trio was £246,000).

Thompson's vice president and general manager Neil Taggart said: “We have a way to go before we return to profitability. But the transformation programme is already showing positive results and we continue in our unchanged commitment to supply our customers in the global aerospace industry with seating of the highest quality.

“When we publish financial results for 2021, they will demonstrate this continued improvement.”

Throughout the transformation process the quality of product design and manufacture of premium aircraft seats has continued undiminished at Thompson, which operates from sites in Portadown, Carn and Banbridge

The introduction in 2020 of the pioneering Vantage SOLO seat into the market, successfully launched by US airline JetBlue in 2021, has further opened up access to the single-aisle aircraft market, a type of aircraft increasingly favoured by airlines.