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British aircraft maker behind Islander plane hit by winding-up petition

  • The Telegraph Online
  • 21 August, 2023 12:00 AM
  • Print news
British aircraft maker behind Islander plane hit by winding-up petition

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A British manufacturer that builds aircraft used by MI5 is scrambling to get its finances in order after it was hit with a winding-up petition.

Britten-Norman’s 69-year existence was recently under threat as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) made an attempt to recoup unpaid debts through the High Court.

The CAA launched a winding-up petition against the Isle of Wight-based company earlier this month, but it is understood this has now been withdrawn.

Britten-Norman’s bosses insisted the legal action was due to an “error”.

However, winding-up proceedings, which can lead to a company’s assets being seized, are typically used by creditors as a last resort to recover cash.

Legal papers show Britten-Norman owed the regulator £36,577 for invoices relating to design approvals, airworthiness and noise certification.

“The petitioner has provided the company with multiple opportunities to make payment in line with an arranged payment plan,” said the CAA’s court filing, dated Aug 11. “Despite this, the company has failed to pay the agreed instalments or meet the demanded payments.”

The CAA declined to comment.

A Britten-Norman spokesman said: “This is an error which is being amended.”

Britten-Norman’s success is built on its nine-seat, twin-engined Islander aircraft which first flew in 1965.

Popular as an air ambulance and short-haul travel, around 1,300 have been built to date.

The British Army and Royal Air Force used Britten-Norman’s camera-equipped Islanders for domestic surveillance over a 30-year period, including missions over Northern Ireland during the Troubles to feed vital intelligence to MI5 agents.

The last Britten-Norman Defenders, as the military called their Islander aircraft, were withdrawn in 2021.

Companies House records show that the aeroplane manufacturer and its owner are also late in filing their annual accounts.

Britten-Norman and its parent company B-N Group Ltd are both overdue by more than six weeks.

B-N Group’s last accounts for 2021 show an £80,000 profit, down from £462,000 in 2020.

The winding-up petition comes months after Britten-Norman unveiled ambitious plans to merge with Cranfield Aerospace Solutions to begin making a hydrogen-fuelled version of its aircraft.

The company has also set out plans to bring production back to the Isle of Wight after offshoring the majority of its work to Romania six decades ago.

While plenty of military jets and helicopters are made in the UK, civil aerospace manufacturing is mostly limited to building parts.

Airbus makes wings and other components in Britain, while Rolls-Royce makes jet engines.

The Isle of Wight is also home to Airframe Assemblies, a specialist aerospace company that rebuilds Spitfires from salvaged wrecks back to flying condition.

Britten-Norman was founded by engineers John Britten and Desmond Norman in 1954 to build a small commuter aeroplane.

They diversified into crop-spraying aircraft and also ventured into hovercraft under the Cushioncraft name.

The success of the Islander led the company to farm out production, handing a contract to Intreprinderea de Reparatii Material Aeronautic in Romania.