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Bombardier workforce in Belfast could play bigger role in CSeries

Exclusive by John Mulgrew

Published 17/11/2015

Bombardier’s troubled CSeries
Bombardier’s troubled CSeries

Bombardier's Northern Ireland workforce could play a much bigger role in building its long-delayed CSeries passenger jets, including producing key parts such as the fuselage, the Belfast Telegraph understands.

The Canadian firm could put its trust further in Belfast's "high quality" workforce, which is currently producing the wings for the CSeries at its Belfast factory. It is also understood Bombardier has had discussions surrounding growing Northern Ireland's input into the CSeries.

And it could end up making other parts for the over-budget aircraft. Parts of the fuselage are currently made in China.

Economist Andrew Webb, managing director of Webb Advisory, said with Northern Ireland's high quality of work, it would be "feasible" that Belfast produces more parts of the CSeries jets.

"If Bombardier is trying to save costs, and how its global operations function, it would be entirely sensible to look at that (adding additional CSeries roles to Belfast).

"Northern Ireland can compete on quality, and has a great reputation. Looking at global operations, I'd be surprised if there isn't a significant Invest NI play behind that.

"Quality is the first call, but a case for moving stuff from China is not unfeasible," Mr Webb said.

It comes as the company, which employs some 5,500 workers here, asks staff to accept a pay freeze amid a "serious financial crisis" at the firm. Bombardier's Belfast operation is trying to cut costs by a fifth over the next two years.

It has 243 orders for the CSeries jets, short of the target of 300.

Last month, Bombardier received a $1bn (£660m) bail-out from the Quebec regional government.

Bombardier Belfast already designs and manufactures the fuselage of the company's CRJ900 aircraft.

A spokesman for Bombardier said there were no changes to Belfast's involvement in building the CSeries but added: "As part of our business strategy, we continually review the work carried out at all our sites in order to maintain the overall competitiveness of Bombardier Aerostructures and Engineering Services.

"This includes significantly advancing our capabilities and skills in Belfast, enabling us to increase our competitiveness and ensuring we optimise our Belfast site operations in line with our skills and expertise.

"Bombardier has invested over £2.5bn in our Northern Ireland operations over the past 25 years, including building a new wing manufacturing and assembly facility.

"We will continue to advance our capabilities and skills, and focus on work that makes the best use of Belfast's expertise and adds real value to our business."

And Northern Ireland aviation author, Guy Warner, said the production of other elements, such as the fuselage, is "something Belfast could handle".

"It's obviously feasible that Bombardier in Belfast would have the capacity and the skills to make the fuselage, and other components - so there's no reason from a skills point of view.

"It would be enormous (for Northern Ireland). In simple terms, the most hi-tech part are the wings, but the fuselage is the biggest bit.

"It's not as complicated, from a technical view, so there's no doubt Bombardier Belfast could do it. Is it a good idea? Potentially, yes. It's certainly something Belfast could handle."

Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI said the quality of Bombardier's Belfast work should secure the workforce here, following the bail-out deal from Quebec.

"I know that the people and 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."

Belfast Telegraph

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