Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Chinook repair site in Gosport to stop apprentice intake for 2017

Chinook at RAF Odiham Image copyright PA
Image caption The Chinooks are maintained at Fleetlands with technical support from Odiham and other UK locations

Apprenticeships at a helicopter repair site which currently maintains the UK's Chinook fleet have been stopped for the first time in its history.

Vector Aerospace, which runs the Fleetlands site in Gosport, Hampshire, blamed a drop in workload for its decision to suspend the 2017 intake.

It comes after the firm recently lost out on a contract to upgrade some of the Chinooks, putting 60 jobs at risk.

The site was sold by the MoD to Vector in 2008.

It has offered apprenticeships at its training facility for the past 75 years, taking about eight apprentices each year in Gosport in recent times.

The three-year programme offers successful applicants the chance to get hands-on experience on the maintenance, repair and overhaul of rotary wing aircraft.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The then-prime minister David Cameron announced a Chinook contract at Fleetlands during a visit to Portsmouth in February

Fleetlands history

  • Opened in 1940 to repair and overhaul naval fixed-wing aircraft, including the Hawker Sea Fury and Supermarine Seafire
  • Known as the Royal Naval Air Yard, the establishment gradually started dealing with helicopters as the number of them in service grew
  • As most fixed-wing aircraft in the Navy disappeared towards the end of the century, the site became the main location for rotary wing maintenance
  • In 1999, the Defence Aviation Repair Agency (DARA) was formed to take over the work and maintained Army and RAF helicopters, along with naval aircraft
  • In 2008, the Fleetlands facility was bought by Vector Aerospace and supported Chinooks as well as Lynx and Sea King helicopters until they went out of service

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage, who has been in talks with Vector and union representatives at Fleetlands, said it was "extremely disappointing" to see the scheme suspended.

She added: "The company provides an excellent pipeline for young people from our area to gain technical skills for a rewarding career. I understand this decision will be reviewed over the coming year and I will be urging them to reconsider."

A Vector spokesman said it was disappointed to suspend the scheme but was "fully committed to our current apprentices" and would review the programme in the coming year.

The private firm works closely with Boeing, which builds military craft for the Ministry of Defence, and had been expecting to secure a contract to upgrade the fleet with a Digital Automatic Flight Control System (DAFCS).

'Constructive negotiations'

But Boeing decided to take the work in-house, despite Vector previously completing another Chinook upgrade package for the manufacturer.

Vector is talking with union officials to try and transfer some staff to Boeing but no guarantees have been given.

The company's long-term deal with Boeing to provide maintenance of the Chinook fleet has not been affected.

Steve Burnell, managing director of Aircraft Support Boeing, said the decision not to award Vector the contract came after a "long and detailed study on the grounds of cost".

A Unite spokesperson said it was "engaged in constructive negotiations with the Vector management" but declined to comment further.

The Fleetlands site, which has historically supported the MoD's helicopter fleet, has seen its workload shrink in recent years after the Sea King and Lynx helicopters went out of service.

Vector, which employs 800 people in Gosport, moved into the civil aviation market to boost its workload.

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