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French aerospace deal includes Zodiac plant in Newport

Jan. 20, 2017 Updated Fri., Jan. 20, 2017 at 6:01 p.m.

By Dominic Gates The Seattle Times

French aerospace manufacturing giant Safran’s $9 billion deal to acquire compatriot aircraft interiors company Zodiac includes a string of Zodiac subsidiaries in Washington state.

Zodiac, a family-controlled manufacturer of aircraft seats and cabin interiors, operates plants in Newport, north of Spokane, and in Bellingham, Everett and Marysville in Western Washington.

In addition, a Redmond subsidiary specializes in aircraft cabin lighting and an Everett subsidiary supplies aircraft water and waste systems.

Engineering services unit Zodiac Northwest Aerospace Technologies in Everett manages the interior reconfiguration of large airline fleets.

And Kirkland-based Greenpoint Technologies designs high-end customized interiors for VIP private jets.

Safran said the acquisition will make it the third-largest aerospace supplier in the world, behind the aviation units of United Technologies and General Electric.

Zodiac has grappled with production struggles since 2014, mostly at plants outside the state. The resulting shortages of airplane seats and other interior components led to delays in delivering airplanes at both Airbus and Boeing.

As problems continued last year with delivery of A350 first-class seats and lavatories produced in California, Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier issued a rare public rebuke of Zodiac.

The deal announced Thursday in Paris is the latest in a series of consolidations among aerospace companies.

In October, avionics specialist Rockwell Collins agreed to pay $6.4 billion to buy B/E Aerospace, Zodiac’s chief rival as a supplier of cabin interiors.

B/E last year opened a new $35 million facility in Everett.

There is little overlap between the businesses of Safran and Rockwell Collins and the interiors companies they are acquiring.

Rockwell Collins makes avionics, including flight deck equipment, flight controls and communication and in-flight entertainment systems.

Safran makes avionics systems and engines as well as major airplane parts and equipment such as nacelles and thrust reversers, landing systems, wheels and brakes, wiring, and power transmissions.

So neither acquisition is likely to mean significant job losses in local plants.

Safran chief executive Philippe Petitcolin told reporters Thursday he doesn’t expect big layoffs because of the complementary nature of Zodiac’s business.

Some analysts question the wisdom of taking on such a major acquisition, which could produce problems in integrating the two companies, at the same time that Safran is undertaking a massive global ramp-up to supply the new LEAP engine for the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX jets.

“To be taking on Zodiac, with its recent execution issues, is arguably doubling up on risk,” Robert Stallard, an analyst with Vertical Research, wrote in a note to clients Thursday. “The aerospace industry has traditionally struggled when it takes on too much at one time, and so we’ll see if Safran can break from history.”

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