Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Bombardier battle is one our economy can't afford to be lost

The decision by the US Department of Commerce to slap a 220% tariff on Bombardier's C Series plane - throwing orders and future production into doubt - is causing great anxiety among workers at the planemaker's Northern Ireland production centres.

Up to 1,000 workers are involved in the C Series wing manufacture, but such is the pivotal position the plane holds in the company's fortunes, all 4,500 workers here will face the coming months with trepidation until a final decision on the action by Boeing against Bombardier is taken.

These are highly skilled workers carrying on a rich tradition of airplane innovation and manufacture in the province and Bombardier is the largest manufacturing company in Northern Ireland, which could not be replaced.

The local workers are also the potential collateral damage in a row between two aerospace companies and two countries - the US and Canada - with an often difficult trading relationship.

Little wonder then that the dispute has spilled out of the boardrooms and into the political arena at the highest level.

Prime Minister Theresa May, mindful of her reliance on the DUP to remain in power, has made representations to the White House on behalf of the company's interests here, and Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon warned Boeing that its behaviour could jeopardise future relationships with the UK.

But it should be pointed out that some 16,500 jobs in the UK rely on the Boeing supply chain, the company provides military aircraft, and the UK sees the US as a prime trading partner when Brexit finally happens.

Those are serious pressure points on the UK Government and will be a significant stress test of the strength of the DUP's influence with the May administration.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been even more pointed in his warnings of what will happen if the tariff is finally ratified. It could lead to the cancellation of an order for military helicopters from Boeing, but it is doubtful if Britain would be as willing to jeopardise its military capabilities.

It does not help our case that there is no functioning Executive at Stormont. The days when the First and Deputy First Ministers could travel to the US or anywhere else globally to press Northern Ireland's potential as a place to do business in seem very distant now.

This is a moment of crisis, but fortunately there is a window of opportunity for the political parties to restore devolution and press their concerns about the future of Bombardier here. A final resolution of the dispute between the two companies is not expected until next spring, but the implications for the province need to be kept at the forefront of transatlantic political discussions.

The other glimmer of hope is the increasing global demand for single aisle and efficient aircraft due to rising oil prices and ageing fleets. The Bombardier plane is regarded as among the most efficient in its class, thanks in no small measure to the innovative composite material wings made in Belfast.

The company may face a period of turbulence, but it could ride out the storm providing that the current punitive tariffs, which would triple the cost of its planes, is either overturned or greatly mitigated.

This is one battle which the company, and Northern Ireland, cannot afford to lose. Otherwise our economy could be facing a crash landing.

Belfast Telegraph

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