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Union calls for no more Bombardier job losses in Belfast after £8bn deal

By Ryan McAleer

Trade union Unite has said a potential £8bn order for A220 planes by US airline JetBlue must mean an end to cost-cutting at Bombardier's Belfast plant.

The company has signed a memorandum of understanding to take delivery of 60 A220-300 planes between 2020 and 2025, a deal worth £4bn, with an option to buy another 60.

The announcement on Tuesday night came just hours after Airbus unveiled the new name of the C Series as part of a major marketing strategy under its 50.01% ownership.

While the JetBlue order, starting with five A220-300s in 2020, will be assembled at the Airbus facility in Mobile, Alabama, the wings will continue to be made at Bombardier's Belfast plant, which owns 34% of the project.

The announcement comes just days after Bombardier published its annual financial report, revealing a swing from $76.3m (£55.6m) pre-tax profit to $52.9m (£39.9m) loss between 2016 and 2017.

The company, which said it was midway through a five-year global turnaround plan, confirmed that it had cut its Belfast workforce by almost 500 people over the same period.

Airbus has signalled its intent to make savings in the A220's production, but with a lengthy backlog of orders - 384 before the JetBlue news - Unite said there can be no justification for further job losses here.

Unite regional secretary in Ireland Jackie Pollock said the first order under the Airbus moniker marked a "tremendous fillip" for local Bombardier staff.

But he called on management at the Canadian company to provide an assurance to workers here that the cost-cutting will end.

Just over 4,000 people are currently employed by Bombardier in Northern Ireland, with around 1,000 jobs directly linked to the A220.

Belfast produced 28 commercial aircraft wings in 2017 and 21 in 2016, but production will need to ramp up to meet the demand of the A220's two production lines in Mirabel, Montreal, and in Mobile.

Rob Dewar, the head of engineering in the new A220 Airbus-Bombardier partnership, said on Tuesday that the production line in Belfast is designed to increase that figure to 110-120 wings.

Mr Pollock said: "There can be no justification for job losses in the context of a swelling order book. In particular, we need to see the end of outsourcing. The skills base of their workforce in Northern Ireland is a critical factor in their success - this world-class aircraft is rooted in the world-class components produced by Northern Ireland workers."

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, who visited the Bombardier plant, said he was delighted by the new order.

"I sensed a genuine vibrancy and positivity within the company and it all bodes well for the future," he said.

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