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Concern for future of 350 Northern Ireland jobs after Bombardier offloads jet programme

Bombardier’s CRJ aircraft
Bombardier’s CRJ aircraft
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

Bombardier's decision to sell its regional jet programme to Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries raises concerns for the long-term security of 350 jobs in Belfast, a union has said.

The Canadian transport group confirmed yesterday that the Tokyo-based industrial giant will pay Bombardier $550m (£432m) in cash for the aircraft programme.

The central fuselage of the CRJ aircraft series is designed and manufactured in Bombardier's Northern Ireland aerostructures operation, which it put up for sale along with its Moroccan operation last month.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) will assume liabilities amounting to around $200m (£157m) as part of the deal, which is expected to close in the first half of 2020.

Bombardier said its CRJ production facility in Mirabel, Quebec will remain within the group. The company said it will continue to supply components and spare parts and will assemble the current CRJ backlog on behalf of MHI.

Production of the jet series is expected to conclude in the second half of 2020, following the delivery of the current backlog of aircraft.

In a statement, Bombardier said: "We are reviewing what impact this may have on our sites in Northern Ireland and Morocco as suppliers to the programme, and will evaluate opportunities in other programmes to mitigate any potential impact on our workforce."

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But the Unite Union has called for Bombardier to provide guarantees for the future of its CRJ workforce in Northern Ireland.

The union also claimed that the decision by the company's leadership in Canada not to inform anyone in Northern Ireland about the sale had caused anger.

Describing a sense of uncertainty and concern within the workforce, Unite regional coordinating officer Susan Fitzgerald said: "While both Bombardier corporate management and Mitsubishi have been talking up the possible benefits of such a deal to the markets for weeks now, no assurances have been provided to Bombardier workers in Northern Ireland.

"What is more, the fact that no one in the Northern Ireland operations was informed about this by Bombardier global corporate management will result in a wave of anger and concern among the workforce."

Ms Fitzgerald said Mitsubishi, which has been attempting to develop its own regional jet programme, lacks the necessary accreditation to sell into all markets globally.

She added: "So the acquisition should be viewed as a mechanism for the Japanese company to get a foothold in these.

"Despite the huge skills base among the workforce in Northern Ireland, there are grounds for concern about the long-term security of the approximately 350 jobs sustained by this work in Northern Ireland - at worst, this sale might simply be a case of Mitsubishi buying up a competitor to increase market share.

"Unite are calling on Bombardier to guarantee this sale will be tied to a cast-iron commitment to the livelihoods of those employed in CRJ production and, as we have previously called for, the UK Government must be proactive in defence of these vital jobs and skills.

"Unite will be meeting our team of shop stewards and with our colleagues in the GMB to coordinate our response to this latest threat."

A spokesperson for Bombardier said it had no further comment to make.

Bombardier has also so far remained tight-lipped over the efforts to find a buyer for its Northern Ireland operation.

US group Spirit Aerosytems, UK-based GKN and Airbus have been linked to an acquisition. Around 3,600 are employed by the firm here.

The sale of the CRJ programme coupled with the efforts to offload its aerostructures division in Belfast and Morocco represents Bombardier's ongoing moves away from commercial aviation.

Yesterday, Alain Bellemare, president and chief executive of Bombardier Inc, said: "We are confident that MHI's acquisition of the program is the best solution for airline customers, employees and shareholders. We are committed to ensuring a smooth and orderly transition.

"With our aerospace transformation now behind us, we have a clear path forward and a powerful vision for the future," he added.

Belfast Telegraph

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