Airline cabin maker selects Grant Thornton for administration

07 July 2022 2 min. read

After the collapse of a historic aviation company in Dorset, Grant Thornton was appointed to the firm’s administration. The professionals have since sold on AIM Aviation’s assets, as part of a pre-pack deal.

Based in Bournemouth International Airport, AIM Aviation is an 82-year old aviation company, which counts Airbus, Boeing, Virgin and Emirates among its customers. Established in 1940 under the name W Henshall & Sons, the company designs and manufacturers cabin interiors for helicopters and planes, including lounges, bars, seats and galleys. It also makes interiors for military aircraft.

This last factor has caused particular consternation among UK politicians in recent years, as since 2016, Bournemouth-based AIM Altitude has been owned by the state-controlled Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC). The organisation paid £155 million for the business at a time when relations with the country were good. However, recent manoeuvres to reposition AVIC’s control of the company come at a time when international relations are far less civil.

Bournemouth International Airport

AIM Altitude has endured a rocky trading period of late. In 2021, it closed its factory in Llanelli, Wales, with the loss of 100 jobs – and according to Business Live's sister site Wales Online, it blamed the decision on the knock-on effect of the Covid crisis on the aviation industry. Estimates suggest the airline industry worldwide lost as much as $314 billion in revenue in 2020 as a result of the pandemic – and this weakened position was allegedly leveraged by AIM Altitude’s ownership to secure greater control of the firm.

In June, AIM Altitude, which has 600 staff, went through a restructuring and was bought by ACS UK – another division of AVIC. According to The Gazette, public records state that Grant Thornton was appointed as administrator at the end of the month – before overseeing a pre-pack administration. With the move to ACS ownership, reports suggest the firm is now under the overall control of the Chinese Government.

For some MPs, this has provoked a panicked response, with many calling for a review of AIM Altitude’s ownership. Ex-Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, for example, told the Times that “This absolutely needs to be called in and the Government has got to get off its backside."

The National Security and Investment Act, which came into force at the start of the year, gives the Government powers to scrutinise and intervene in business transactions, such as foreign takeovers, to protect national security. Following Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the UK state has finally re-evaluated how it responds to investments from overseas, especially when linked to states where tensions are high regarding geo-political matters.