Belfast Telegraph

Bombardier boss: These job losses are bad, but we have been through worse than this and still survived

By John Mulgrew

Bombardier's vice-president Michael Ryan says that despite the body blow of 1,000 jobs losses, this is not the toughest time he's dealt with during his 35 years at the company.

And he told the Belfast Telegraph he doesn't believe the Canadian-owned plane maker was foolhardy in going after bigger rivals Airbus and Boeing, with its now long-delayed and overbudget CSeries jets.

"We don't believe we are. If you look at the aircraft sales that the CSeries has obtained, it's not competing with the (Airbus) A320 or the (Boeing) 737-800.

"What they have done is reacted with more fuel efficient engines.

"I know there is a huge amount of talk around that. We are close to getting it into service, showing it is proven in delivering the cost efficiency, the environmental capability it has, and that will show other operators what the opportunity is."

Asked, after 35 years with Bombardier, whether this was the worst time in the role, he said: "No, it's not. I don't mean to underplay it ... but in 1996 when Fokker went bankrupt, they were 40% of our business."

Around 1,500 workers at the former Shorts plant were let go after the Dutch plane manufacturer went under.

Shorts had been making wing sets for Fokker 70 and 100 passenger aircraft.

"Post-9/11 we announced 3,000 redundancies ... we've been through proportionately tougher times, absolutely tougher times, and we've consolidated and stuck to what we are good at, we've invested in skills and technology," Mr Ryan said.

And it's also been confirmed Bombardier is suspending recruiting new apprentices.

It takes on several dozen trainees each year. But following this week's announcement that the firm is cutting 1,080 jobs, it has now suspended the scheme.

A spokeswoman said: "We will continue to support our current apprentices to complete their training and gain the relevant qualifications."

Meanwhile, Martin J Craigs - former Shorts/Bombardier worker and ex-chief executive of Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) - said Bombardier had been "naive" in going up against Boeing and Airbus with its CSeries planes.

"It's naive to think the 800lb gorillas would not do everything within their means to crush the programme," he said.

"They don't want a third player in the industry, in the narrow body (jet) market."

Speaking about the CSeries, Mr Ryan said work is now continuing to "ramp up" on the passenger jets.

"The CSeries is less than 20% of our workload ... the vast majority, over three quarters, is on our other Bombardier programmes.

"We are ramping up, and we will continue to ramp up on the CSeries."

But while Bombardier in Belfast was initially contracted to build the wings for the CS100 and CS300, it's also been producing many of the fuselages.

It's understood around 20 have already been produced at the east Belfast site.

But Mr Ryan said that is not in the long term plan.

The Shenyang Aircraft Corporation in China had been due to produce the CSeries bodies.

"That's not our plan, and that's not a secret.

"We have been building the first fuselages, not all of them - our Chinese partners have been building them ... that will progressively slow down in Belfast."

And speaking about whether Bombardier still required a further bailout from the Quebec or Canadian governments, Mr Ryan said: "Our chief executive Alain Bellemare was quite open about discussing further support from the federal (Canadian) government."

He said the business was also closing the $1bn (£0.7bn) deal from the Quebec government for the struggling CSeries.

Asked whether there was any concern Belfast's workforce could get left behind, with Canada's focus on its own staff, Mr Ryan said: "No. We are a source of competitive advantage to them. Being in the UK is a source of competitive advantage to them."

Belfast Telegraph