PLANS for a cutting-edge aerospace technology centre in Yeovil were cleared for take-off by Somerset County Council today.

The Council’s cabinet endorsed proposals for what would be the flagship development in the iAero initiative that looks to cement Somerset’s position as the centre of the country’s aerospace industry.

iAero has been established by leading South West aerospace businesses, including Leonardo Helicopters in Yeovil, to support the region’s supply chain businesses and ensure they remain competitive.

Yeovil, one of two key technology centres, would specialise in rotorcraft, while a proposed centre in Bristol leads on fixed wing aircraft.

It would develop skills, encourage innovation, collaboration and growth among small and medium-sized supply aerospace supply chain businesses.

Today’s decision is a welcome boost following the recent announcement that the GKN facility in Yeovil faces possible closure.

Councillor David Hall, cabinet member for Business, Inward Investment and Policy, said: “Aerospace is arguably the county’s most important area of manufacturing – there are around 200 supply chain businesses and in South Somerset alone it accounts for around 8 per cent of total employment.

“It’s a global industry and if we want these jobs to stay, we have to make sure Somerset remains an attractive place for these businesses to stay, grow and innovate.

“This initiative is about securing the future of strategically important industry in the county and, in doing so, investing in Somerset jobs prospects, future economic prosperity and business rate income for the council.”

John Ponsonby, managing director of Leonardo Helicopters in the UK said: “As the largest aerospace company in Somerset we welcome Somerset County Council’s commitment to the iAero project and the benefits it will bring to small and medium sized aerospace companies in the local area, many of which are our suppliers.

“We look forward to continuing our engagement with local authorities to maximise the economic and employment benefits iAero will bring.”

It is estimated the centre will cost around £10m to establish and today cabinet agreed to allocate £1m from its capital programme – money that cannot be spent on day-to-day running costs – as its contribution.

Other funding is expected to come from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, £2.5m from EU Structural Funds and £2.5m from industry sources.