On the air

Griffon Hoverwork is a hovercraft manufacturer with a wider range of vehicles than any other company in the market and a history that establishes it as the pre-eminent figure within the industry. Its name today bears the roots it has in two historic firms: Hoverwork Ltd, based on the Isle of Wight, and the Southampton-based Griffon Hovercraft Ltd, which led the way in commercial hovercrafts during the 1960s. The two were both acquired by the Bland Group – former owners of GP Airways, today EasyJet – in 2008 and fully integrated under the Griffon Hoverwork banner in 2009.

Adrian Went, managing director of Griffon Hoverwork, talks about where the company is just over two years after it was formed: “We probably lead the global market at this point in time, particularly for diesel-powered hovercraft in all sizes from our smallest craft, which is a five man rescue and special forces type vehicle, through to 150-person models for commercial or military landing applications. There are 13 different models and we also own the licensing rights for all original British Hovercraft Corporation designs as well. Our customers are located across the globe and they include 40 different governments; our key customers at the moment are the Canadian Coast Guard, the Indian Coast Guard to which we are in the process of delivering a series, the Korean Coast Guard and the Indonesian rescue services. In the UK we work closely with the Royal Navy, which is currently on their second fleet of small landing craft, whilst seven Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) stations use our craft.”

In August 2010 Griffon Hoverwork announced that it had won a £34 million contract with the Indian Government to provide its coast guard with 12 8000TD hovercrafts, the largest single order ever placed with a British manufacturer. This will be the second order of the 8000TD model that the Indian Government has placed, the first at the turn of the Millennium for six vessels that was built in collaboration with Calcutta-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers. The current round of vessels will be an upgraded 8000TD model with improved performance. It achieves faster speeds, better seakeeping capabilities, greater clearance, and more advanced onboard navigation and surveillance systems.

“A normal order would expect a single or even up to four crafts to be made so this may very well be the largest hovercraft ever placed outside of US Navy landing craft,” comments Adrian. “The opportunity to make 12 is very good news for us and the market at large. They will be built over three years and at the moment we’ve almost half way through that: four are now in construction at the Hoverworks factory in Southampton with the first coming off the production line in January.”

For the Indian Coast Guard, as for most organisations that choose to include hovercrafts in their fleet, the primary reason for purchasing the 8000TD is the environmental context. Since the attacks on Mumbai more than three years ago, the country has increased its border security presence; the attackers entered India over lesser-patrolled marshy coastline, where hovercraft would be an ideal method of traversing. The 12 new vessels will thus be an important asset in the country’s national security. In other areas of the world, groups such as the RNLI use hovercraft to cope with shallow waters that dry up at low tide, or else with mudflats such as in Weston Super-Mare and Merseyside. In the Baltic and Canada, a hovercraft is used because it can cross the winter ice.

There are clearly many small but important areas of the world that require hovercraft for efficient travel, and many of these enjoy vehicles from Griffon Hovercraft’s portfolio. There are a number of reasons why it has been such a successful company, its 30-year history of pioneering work and wide range only two of them. More important than what it has done or what it promises is what it can practically do in the present, and the company’s engineering capabilities are second to none.

Recently upgraded facilities at its site on Merlin Quay in Southampton mean it has state-of-the-art production equipment, brand new office facilities and a fully integrated design-to-delivery production line. Griffon Hoverwork already has a history of efficiency – two years ago, for example, it picked up a contract for Changi Airport when competitors were unable to deliver two finished products and completed the order promptly – and the new office and workshop will go a long way in reinforcing its reputation.

“Since the transformation we went through three years ago, taking two businesses and amalgamating them into our new location, business has been reasonably good,” Adrian says. “Griffon Hoverwork has required quite significant investments but these have not been disproportionate to what we expect to achieve in the future. At least a third has been added to our compliant turnover to reach where we are at the moment and there are pretty sound prospects for the near to mid-term future as well.”

There are two major prospects on the horizon for Griffon Hoverwork. The first derives from the Indian Coast Guard contract: the company will pursue an order with the Indian Army that will comprise of up to 40 two-tonne payload patrol crafts and 20 larger 12 to 15 tonne payload patrol crafts. Such a massive order will no doubt attract international attention so Griffon Hoverwork will face tough competition in bidding for it, but its existing good relations with the Indian Government make winning a very real possibility. The other important prospect is branching into South America and the Amazonian Basin, where the region is showing strong economic growth and the environment make hovercraft ideal. The company is already working closely with Peruvian marines and is now forging links with Columbia as well.

Talking about the future, Adrian concludes with a bright outlook and plenty of opportunities: “We are working on developing a relationship with the oil and gas industry. As it moves into less accessible parts of the world, hovercrafts would be ideal for providing access – such as over ice or across the Amazon Basin, for example. The industry is a difficult one to break into but we will continue chipping away at that. In the UK we support Hovertravel, which is the only remaining hovercraft passenger service in the country, running between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. At some stage in the future their vehicles will need replacing and we’ll be the ones to develop their new craft. Overall I would like to think we could maintain into the future the performance that we are achieving at the moment, with the same combination of spectacular orders and routine support.”

Working on largest ever UK order
Recently moved into new premises
Leading the hovercraft industry