From Somerset to the world: Leonardo’s “Home of British Helicopters” notches up £1.6 billion of export orders in 18 months

11 September 2023

Leonardo has published figures on recent export orders secured by its UK-based helicopter business, including new build aircraft, mid-life upgrades, and the provision of support services

Leonardo’s successful track record of delivering helicopters from Yeovil spans eight decades, with customers in Asia-Pacific, Europe, North Africa, and North America

Exports from Leonardo’s Somerset site contributes to the sustainment of a UK rotorcraft industrial base, providing UK MOD with operational independence and technological advantage

At the DSEI defence and security exhibition taking place this week in London, Leonardo has revealed new figures that demonstrate how its UK onshore helicopters business, recently granted official status as the ‘Home of British Helicopters’, continues to compete effectively in export markets. The headline figure, £1.6Bn in helicopters exports over the last 18 months, includes orders for the design, development and manufacture of advanced new aircraft, capability upgrade programmes for existing helicopters and the provision of support services for aircraft already in service around the world. This is on top of an additional £5Bn in helicopters exports secured over the preceding nine years. The most recent customers include Poland, Canada, Japan, Norway, Portugal, and Denmark.

Since 1947, Leonardo’s UK helicopter business has manufactured and delivered more than 3,000 aircraft from its site in Yeovil, which equates to one helicopter for every current Leonardo employee working in Yeovil. Today’s aircraft are deployed across 23 countries, in extreme environments, across the full spectrum of search and rescue, battlefield, coastal and blue water operations.

Leonardo is one of very few organisations in the world, and the only one in the UK, with an end-to-end helicopter manufacturing capability. This means that Leonardo in Yeovil can design, develop, manufacture, test and certify helicopters, in addition to providing subsequent training, support, and upgrades for customers.

More than 50% of the current UK Armed Forces’ frontline fleet started life at Leonardo’s Somerset-based site. This includes the AW101 and AW159, known to UK Armed Forces as the Merlin and Wildcat. The UK’s vote of confidence in its national industry champion by purchasing and operating home-grown helicopters has in turn enabled export sales.

In addition to further opportunities to export the AW101 and AW159, Leonardo estimates that there is an addressable export market for more than 500 of its latest-generation AW149, a medium multi-role helicopter. In the UK, Leonardo is putting forward the AW149 for the UK MOD’s New Medium Helicopter requirement and has pledged to build the new AW149 fleet on a production line in Yeovil if chosen by the UK. Between 60-70% of the platform’s content and through-life support would be carried out in the UK, at Leonardo and through its ‘Team AW149 UK’ onshore suppliers. Adding the AW149 to the range of aircraft manufactured in Yeovil would significantly boost future helicopter export sales from the UK.

In addition to contributing to UK prosperity, export sales also allow Leonardo to reinvest in skills and cutting-edge research. The company offers top-rated apprenticeship and graduate schemes and is looking to hire an additional 300 early career trainees in 2023, taking its UK-wide total to 900. Investment in skills and research generates valuable UK Intellectual Property (IP) and sustains an onshore industrial base that provides the UK MOD with direct access to critical skills and capabilities that underpin operational independence and technological advantage. This expertise in the full range of helicopter production, including in high-value design and upgrade work in addition to production, makes the UK a strong prospect for any future international helicopter development partnerships.

Clive Higgins, Chair and CEO, Leonardo UK, said: “These multi-million pound export orders demonstrate the competitiveness of the UK’s helicopter industry, represented by Leonardo, in the global market. What’s good for the UK’s only helicopter manufacturer is ultimately good for UK prosperity, UK supply chains, UK research and UK skills. Exports over the last eight decades have allowed us to invest in a sustainable onshore business and, with the support of our critical domestic customer, we’re looking to continue to build on this foundation for decades to come.”

Adam Clarke, Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters UK, said: “International orders show just how desirable the helicopters we build here in Yeovil, Somerset are to operators around the world. Customers from East to West want these military aircraft in their fleets, serving their nations. Our analysis indicates that there’s an addressable global market for over 500 AW149 helicopters. And there’s a commitment from the business that should the UK MOD acquire the AW149 as the NMH solution, we will build the resulting export products from the UK – it becomes a virtuous circle. The solid foundation of our AW101 and AW159 order books will allow us to attract more talent and further invest in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) opportunities for the next generation of engineers that choose a career at the UK’s only helicopter manufacturer.”

Leonardo has already established an initial production capability for its AW149 latest generation battlefield helicopter, a ‘declaration of readiness’ to support the UK MOD in its requirement to have the NMH in-service in a short timeframe. This will, in, turn, support subsequent export orders.