Aircraft seat-maker launches 'game-changing' dynamic test facility

Thompson Aero Seating chief executive Keith Anderson and NI Civil Service head Jayne Brady with "Martin" the test dummy
Thompson Aero Seating chief executive Keith Anderson and NI Civil Service head Jayne Brady with "Martin" the test dummy

A NEW £7.5 million dynamic test facility at Thompson Aero Seating "will give the business a huge competitive advantage in the airline industry", the company believes.

The innovation centre in Banbridge will offer Thompson enhanced capability to certify new products for airworthiness at its own premises (testing that until now has had to be carried out in the US or Europe) and to carry out research and development work.

“The significance of this new state-of-the-art facility cannot be over-emphasised in terms of the opportunities it provides,” chief executive Keith Anderson told invited guests at an opening ceremony at the plant.

“Our order book is very strong and the growth trajectory we have over the coming years will be underpinned and supported by our new in-house capability.”

That order book at the end of 2022 sits at £399 million, some £80 million up on the previous year, according to the company's latest set of published accounts.

They show that the seat-maker increased its sales from £55.9m to £86m, driven largely by volume as the global aviation sector continues its post-Covid recovery. But losses increased from £25m to £37m.

Just a fraction of Thompson's revenues are derived from the UK (£4m), with its biggest markets being the US and Canada (£34m), Asia and Pacific (£22m) and Europe (£16m), where its customers include the likes of Delta, China Eastern and Singapore Airlines.

The accounts show that employee numbers stayed general static in 2022, with 625 people on its payroll. Its wages bill is £25.4m.

The official opening of Thompson’s test centre was carried out by Dr Jayne Brady, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and herself an engineer by training.

She said: “The dynamic test facility is an exciting advancement for Thompson Aero Seating and for Northern Ireland. As a region, we already play a significant part in the aircraft industry, and this new facility will further enhance capability and innovation.”

The majority of the backing for the project came from Thompson’s own shareholders, with some financial backing from Invest NI.

The agency's executive director of business growth Jeremy Fitch, said: “This investment in engineering and business capability represents an important and ambitious milestone in Thompson’s Northern Ireland story.

“It is a great example of the Department for the Economy’s 10X in action, enabling the company to continue its ethos of innovation with an investment which will also boost economic growth in the Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon Council area.”

The test facility allows engineers at the company to reproduce the dynamic conditions of a full-scale crash event in a controlled environment.

It also gives Thompson a huge advantage in the industry, enabling the engineers to continue exploring innovative, lightweight and market-disruptive seating solutions.

The Dynamic Test Facility and Thompson Engineering Centre will support new engineering roles integral to creating the next generation of world-class aircraft interior products.

Mr Anderson added: “We look forward to sharing with our airline customers the positive benefits that will be achieved in terms of innovation, lead times, and sustainability.”