BGF backs leading UK aircraft seat manufacturer

Crawley-based Acro Aircraft Seating, one of Britain’s leading aerospace design and engineering companies, has received a £7.75m growth capital investment from BGF (Business Growth Fund).

Founded in 2007 by three industry professionals – Chris Brady, Andy Lawler and David Starkey- the company was set up to design and manufacture economy airline seats that were comfortable, maintainable, robust and lightweight in order take advantage of huge growth in the low cost carrier (LCC) market. The company’s first seat was launched in 2007 and a year later Acro was granted European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approval with Jet2.com becoming its first customer. The range has since expanded to include both fixed and reclining seats as well as a recently launched premium economy seat.

Acro is now a major player in the global market for economy aircraft seats. Each year the company manufactures around 25,000 seats at its 50,000 square foot facility next to Gatwick Airport, but has the capacity to significantly increase this figure. To date there are over 50,000 seats flying globally. The business now has more than 20 airline customers around the world including Thomas Cook, Frontier and Spirit Airlines and was ranked second in the 2015 Sunday Times SME Export Track. The company received the Queens Award for International Trade in 2015.

Acro believes that aircraft seats should be considered as furniture first and aircraft equipment second and puts passenger comfort at the heart of its designs. It believes that comfort is found in the spaces between the seats and works hard to make them both comfortable and anatomically correct, whilst being as slender as possible to create the maximum amount of legroom for the passenger. The innovative construction of its seats and in particular the composite materials used in the sculpted seatback provide correct support to the lower back and create additional legroom by keeping the seat structure out of the way of the passengers’ legs.

Under the leadership of CEO Chris Brady, Acro has enjoyed significant growth in recent years with revenues growing at a CAGR of 54 per cent since 2013 and, in the 12 months to January 2016, the business is expected to deliver revenues of £33m. Growth has been funded to date via cash flow.

After an apprenticeship at British Airways, Chris joined Virgin Atlantic in 1990 as an engineer, moving into a marketing role in 1993. In 1997 he became Managing Director of Reynard Aviation (a joint venture between Virgin and Reynard Racing) and led the team which manufactured Virgin’s first lie flat bed before becoming General Manager of Product Development responsible for innovation across the entire passenger experience.

In addition to retrofitting aircraft with seats, the ability to supply new aircraft significantly increases Acro’s potential market. The company was recently chosen as the preferred supplier for an order of 50 new Airbus aircraft by Spirit, an American low-cost carrier operating flights throughout the U.S. as well as the Caribbean, Mexico, and Latin America.

BGF’s capital will be used to invest in Acro’s design and product development capabilities, strengthen its supply chain and provide additional working capital to fund the company’s future order pipeline.

Acro operates in a fast growing market. Global passenger fleets are expected to more than double from circa. 16,000 aircraft today to around 34,000 by 2032. Single aisle aircraft are expected to generate the greatest demand of any aircraft type driven by growth in emerging markets and an increasing number of LCCs.

BGF has taken a minority stake in Acro and Ben Kirby, Investor, will take a seat on the company’s board on behalf of BGF. In addition, Bob Davies joins as Non-Executive Chairman following an introduction by BGF. Bob is currently Board Advisor to TriVista and an advisor to Wyvern Partners carrying out operational due diligence and improvement projects for private equity houses. He was previously Chairman of Manchester Solutions and CEO of Renold plc and Druck plc and has spent over 20 years in the Aerospace industry working for Lucas and GE.

BGF, an investor in growing companies, has backed 32 British manufacturing businesses in the past three years, from automotive component suppliers to designers and manufacturers of specialist audio and mobile phone products.

Chris Brady, CEO, commented: “We’ve worked hard to grow Acro and by investing every scrap we’ve made in our staff, products and infrastructure we have managed to double the size of the business every year for the past four years, but we still have ambitious plans. Our partnership with BGF will allow us to bring those plans to life, which is hugely exciting.”

Ben Kirby, BGF Investor, commented: “In an industry that is incredibly risk averse and highly regulated for obvious reasons, Acro has managed to build a fantastic reputation and market share in a relatively short space of time. It has achieved this primarily by designing seats which put customer comfort first but are also robust, maintainable and lightweight.

Passing the strict the regulations required to manufacture aircraft seating is a strong endorsement of both the design and manufacturing capabilities of the business.

“It is fantastic to be backing such a high quality UK manufacturing business which is addressing a strong and growing end market. We look forward to partnering with Chris and the rest of the Acro team to continue growing the business.”