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Bombardier boss says Belfast plant safe despite bailout in Quebec

By John Mulgrew

Published 10/12/2015

Confident: Stephen Kelly
Confident: Stephen Kelly

Bombardier's boss in Northern Ireland says a $1bn (£660m) bailout from the provincial Government in Quebec, Canada, poses no threat to the company's operations here.

The Canadian-owned plane-maker's Belfast plant, which among other things produces wings for the firm's troubled CSeries aircraft, has key skills in manufacturing that makes it a world leader.

And it's those qualities which will safeguard its status, said Michael Ryan, vice-president and general manager. He added that, because of its unique position, the Belfast factory was "moving up the value chain".

Bombardier is Northern Ireland's biggest manufacturer and one of our largest employers with 5,500 workers.

But it has been struggling with securing sales for its long-delayed CSeries passenger jet series.

The narrow-bodied aircraft has received 243 orders so far, which is short of an initial target of 300.

Belfast's role in the CSeries has already increased significantly.

Last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the workforce here had produced between 15 and 20 fuselage mid-sections for the jets.

Around 150 staff have been working on the parts since the end of 2011.

It is also understood that some work for the middle sections of the CS100 and CS300 has moved from Bombardier's Chinese partner Shenyang Aircraft Corporation to Belfast.

Aviation expert Guy Warner reiterated Mr Ryan's confidence in Belfast's specialist talents in composites, which includes the building of key aircraft parts such as wings.

"It would ring true," he said. "It's been a world leader in composites for 30 years, originally doing work for Boeing - that's where they cut their teeth.

"They have all the top-level equipment, and they have proven they are world leaders, with special skills in composites and in design.

"The production here has always been very good, and it's been building upon many years of experience and skills."

Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI also said that the "quality of the work here means that Bombardier's role in Northern Ireland would be secured under the Quebec deal".

"It has a good reputation with good people doing good work, and we should be confident about the CSeries," he added.

But Bombardier's east Belfast operation is trying to cut costs by a fifth over the next two years, a document given to the Belfast Telegraph revealed.

Just last month workers here were asked to accept a pay freeze amid "serious financial crisis" at the company.

Bombardier is continuing talks with the newly-elected Canadian Government over another possible bailout of the struggling CSeries programme.

A lack of orders for the jet has put financial pressure on the plane-maker.

That led it to seek investors. However, it emerged a short time later that talks with arch-rival Airbus - the manufacturer favoured by budget airline easyJet - had ended in the latter walking away from negotiations.

Bombardier received a boost last month after winning a $544m (£357m) order for 20 Challenger 350 business jets.

That was good news for the company's local workforce because the order from Texan company Flexjet, which sells shares in private planes, was for aircraft that staff here help make.

Meanwhile, Bombardier is also thought to have had discussions about growing Northern Ireland's input into the struggling CSeries programme.

The jet is currently built across a number of sites.

The forward section of the aircraft is constructed in Canada, while the wing boxes are made in Spain.

Bombardier has said that it has been "supporting" its Chinese partner Shenyang Aircraft.

The wing production of the narrow-body CSeries jet is Northern Ireland's biggest-ever inward investment programme, and is believed to be worth £520m.

Belfast Telegraph

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