Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Blow as Shorts Brothers profits hit by 'jetlag'

Company admits to a 'challenging year' that kept gains grounded

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness with Stephen McCullough from Bombardier during their visit to Canada

A "challenging year" kept a lid on the profits of Northern Ireland's biggest aerospace company last year, as the global market for business jets struggled to recover.

Short Brothers, the name for the Northern Ireland arm of Bombardier, reported pre-tax profits of just under £17m for 2013, a slide from the £29m posted in the previous year.

In the 24th year since Shorts was taken over by the Canadian aerospace giant, a hike in interest charges of around £24m was mostly responsible for the dip in profits, before which the business recorded an increase in operating, or day-to-day, profits.

While the business jet market continued to be a drag, other parts of the business were performing well, the company said.

"Our Belfast business reflected the slow pace of recovery in some markets, such as the smaller business jet market, but good progress was maintained in the larger business and commercial jet segments," chairman Ken Brundle said. "Our engine nacelle and customer support business also showed solid progress."

The company said the development of the C-Series – Bombardier's new range of 110 to 135 seat aircraft – remains a strong focus of the business, particularly following the first test flight of the new range in September 2013.

The Belfast plant designs and manufactures the wings for the range and delivered its first set after a specially-built £520m facility was opened in October. Delivery of the first C-Series aircraft has been a sticking point for the company over the last few months, after it pushed the delivery of the first orders for the CS100s back to the second half of 2015 and for the larger CS300s to the end of 2015.

Nevertheless, results for the worldwide group, released last week, saw Bombardier swing back into profit, although earning still fell short of expectations.

"Despite encouraging signs in the global economy, 2013 continued to be a challenging year," the chairman said. "Bombardier gave a solid performance overall, maintaining a good order backlog whilst continuing its ongoing major investments in new aircraft programmes."

Mr Brundle also paid tribute to his predecessor, Sir George Quigley, who died in March 2013. He was a board member of Short Brothers from 1989 and chairman from 1999. "He was... one of Northern Ireland's foremost business leaders and a strong supporter of economic regeneration, inward investment, and cross-border economic cooperation.

"His loss is not only felt by our company, but throughout the wider community."

FACTFILE

Shorts Brothers:

Turnover: 2013: $904m (£543m); 2012: $773m (£464m)

Operating profit: 2013: $82m (£49m); 2012: $65m (£39m)

Pre-tax profit: 2013: $28m (£17m); 2012: $49m (£29m)

Aerospace firm on a high after prestigious award

The breadth of expertise in the Northern Ireland aerospace industry extends as far as Kilkeel, the base B/E Aerospace which has just won an award from Bombardier rival Airbus.

It took the Best Supplier crown from the aerospace giant, a feat which rewards "consistently improved quality and outstanding service" at the company which currently manufactures around one quarter of the world's airline seats.

Helping to celebrate were First Minister Peter Robinson and Member of the European Parliment Diane Dodds, who visited the plant to find out more about the company's successes, its role within the global B/E Aerospace network and its importance to the Northern Ireland economy.

Martin McGinley, Managing Director and Vice President of B/E Aerospace (Kilkeel), said the company's was delighted at the award and to host the visit by the two politicians.

"We are enormously proud of what we do at Kilkeel so it is always a pleasure to showcase our company to distinguished visitors, providing them with an insight into our business sector and giving them the opportunity to meet some of the 830 employees who are responsible for our continued success.

"The visit by Mr Robinson and Mrs Dodds very happily coincided with an important new accolade from Airbus – a pivotal business partner for us as a significant volume of the seats we manufacture for the world's major airlines will be fitted in Airbus manufactured planes."

Innovation from plant benefits economy

Bombardier's contribution to the Northern Ireland economy extends beyond its own profit and loss account.

A cluster of aerospace companies have grown up within these shores to supply the aerospace giant, and although the Belfast plant is a major customer to most, they've also established a strong customer base around the world, independent of Bombardier.

It supports the suppliers through Supply Chain 21, an umbrella body for smaller firms in the aerospace industry which has helped boost external sales for its members.

Bombardier is also taking part in the joint industry and government Aerospace Growth Partnership, which launched the UK Aerospace Industrial Strategy.

Joint government and industry funding of £2bn over seven years will enable UK companies to carry out focused research and development that will help position them to best advantage to win work on new aircraft programmes.

Meanwhile, Bombardier is also supporting the creation of 500 new Aerospace Masters level degree opportunities. And it's tackling the high cost of energy by installing its own alternative energy sources.

An plant which creates energy from waste will subsequently be sited adjacent to its facilities at Belfast Harbour Industrial Estate.