Concerns over U.S. Latecoere purchase overblown: Dassault CEO

FILE PHOTO: Dassault Aviation Chairman and CEO Eric Trappier attends a visit at the assembly line for Indian Air Force Rafale fighter jets before a ceremony at the factory of French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation in Merignac near Bordeaux, France, October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

PARIS (Reuters) - Concerns among French lawmakers about aerospace firm Latecoere's LAEP.PA sale to a U.S. fund are "overblown", the head of its major client Dassault Aviation said on Thursday.

Dassault AVMD.PA boss Eric Trappier was speaking as head of French aerospace industry body GIFAS, after 17 parliamentarians objected to Latecoere's acquisition by Searchlight Capital, which took a controlling stake last month.

Latecoere, based in Toulouse, makes aircraft doors and fuselages and is developing phototronic technologies to deliver on-board internet access with light instead of wifi. Its 2018 sales amounted to 658 million euros ($731 million).

“Latecoere is not alone in the market, and it’s not strategic to the point where you could say the sky will fall in if (its) ownership wasn’t French,” the Dassault chief executive said in Paris. “It’s a bit overblown.”

Searchlight last year bought a 26% Latecoere stake from funds including Apollo Capital, before increasing the holding to 65.6% in a public offer backed by the French firm and approved under foreign investment vetting procedures.

The 17 members of the parliament’s defense and armed forces committee, most from the governing LREM party, had warned in a November letter that the 365 million euro ($406 million) deal raised “questions about the preservation of know-how and France’s defense industry base”, urging government intervention.

Dassault’s Trappier said France and Europe should take a more consistent approach to overseas investment that recognizes their industries’ need for foreign capital.

“This goes to the heart of our companies’ attractiveness to capital,” he said. “We do need international funds to invest in our firms - there’s no other solution.”

($1 = 0.8999 euros)

Reporting by Laurence Frost;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle