Economy minister in talks with Bombardier over jobs in Belfast
Economy Minister Jonathan Bell has held talks in Canada with crisis-hit Bombardier over the future of its CSeries jet and its massive Belfast manufacturing operation, employing 5,500 people.
The company is under pressure because of lower than expected sales of its new jet, which is now three years delayed and £1.2bn over budget.
Mr Bell is leading a trade mission to the country this week and the pre-planned meeting with Jean Seguin, president of aerostructures, and Sebastien Mullot, director of the CSeries Programme, took place yesterday at the company's Mirabel facility in Montreal.
The Minister said: "I saw a vast and busy factory floor filled with aircraft being assembled and in the final stages of production. The senior management team at Bombardier is rightly very proud of the CSeries and I felt extremely proud to see wings that have been built in Belfast being attached to this game-changing aircraft.
"While I recognise that Bombardier faces challenges, the management team is confident these can be overcome and that more sales will follow. The relationship between Northern Ireland and Bombardier is a long standing, successful one, and it is a relationship that will continue to bear fruit in the future."
Earlier this month, Bombardier confirmed that talks with rival Airbus about a possible sale of a stake in the CSeries programme had ended without agreement.
But Bombardier has said it remains totally committed to the CSeries and is in talks with European and North American airlines about possible orders. So far, it has 243 orders, short of its target of 300 ahead of the launch next year.
Fresh concerns about the future of the aircraft were raised this week by leading American aviation consultancy Leeham Company. Consultant Bjorn Fehrm estimated that Bombardier will lose $32m (£21m) on each of the first 50 CSeries aircraft it builds, meaning the programme will continue to bleed billions of dollars through to at least 2018.
"Developing new aircraft has several challenges," Mr Fehrm wrote in the Leeham analysis. "One of the major ones is the economic management and timing of the cash flows that an aircraft programme causes."
The consultant said that Bombardier was relying on cash flow from its business aircraft division, particularly the high-margin Global 5000 and 6000 ultra-long-range jets, to offset the initial costs of developing the CSeries.
However, the delays mean the CSeries is now set to ramp up production just as the Global aircraft are under growing competitive pressure and the new Global 7000 and 8000 - also delayed - are still under development.
"On top of this, the business jet market went soft during 2015 due to changes in several important markets like China and Russia," Mr Fehrm wrote.
Jonathan Bell is also heading a major marketing push by nine Northern Ireland companies into the lucrative Canadian market. Companies taking part include Denroy Plastics from Bangor and Kestrel Foods of Portadown.