Belfast Telegraph

Work carried out in Belfast has contributed to one of the biggest changes in aerospace history, according to Bombardier Aerospace

Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton checks out a plane during a visit to Bombardier in Belfast
Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton checks out a plane during a visit to Bombardier in Belfast
Barbardier chairman Laurent Beaudoin

By Clare Weir

Work carried out in Belfast has contributed to one of the biggest changes in aerospace history, according to a boss of Bombardier Aerospace.

Laurent Beaudoin, chairman of the board of the French-Canadian company, said the biggest shift in the industry in recent decades has been the introduction of composite materials in plane manufacture.

The firm's Belfast facility has been using advanced composite components for over 40 years, making wings, engine nacelles and other parts.

Composite components are a made of different materials which are more lightweight and flexible than traditional manufacturing materials like metals and can be easily moulded.

Bombardier is marking 25 years since it bought Shorts from the UK government and during a visit to Belfast, Mr Beaudoin said: "When we first said we were investing in Northern Ireland, there was surprise, a lot of people questioned it.

"There were a lot of difficulties and that was all that people on the outside could see.

"Now Northern Ireland is very different. Even the city of Belfast has changed visibly."

Mr Beaudoin added: "I had confidence in Northern Ireland and after 25 years I am very satisfied with what we have been able to achieve here, I did not expect we would have come so far in that space of time."

The wings of the new CSeries commercial jet are being manufactured in Belfast.

They are the largest and most complex composite structures made in the UK with this technology and Belfast is regarded as a centre of excellence by the company.

The CSeries represented the biggest ever inward investment project in Northern Ireland at over £520m.

The business has a total of six sites across the region employing around 5,000 people - though there are to be up to 400 job losses as part of a global restructuring.

Mr Beaudoin became general manager of Bombardier in 1964 and president in 1966.

He helped the company diversify from making snowmobiles, into rail transportation and aerospace, acquiring Shorts in 1989.

The company is now the world's third largest civil aircraft manufacturer.

Mr Beaudoin said he was pleased that Bombardier had helped to create a thriving aerospace cluster and a strong supply chain in Northern Ireland.

Mr Beaudoin said that the job losses were part of "efficiency measures" and said that there were no further plans for cuts in the immediate future.

There was also bad news in May, when an engine fire let to the grounding of the fleet of four CSeries test vehicles.

"The job losses were a matter of improving efficiency," he said.

"Most of the jobs lost were on the management side.

"In terms of the CSeries programme, all four planes are back in the air and we expect further sales the nearer we come to putting the plane into commercial useage in 2016."

Mr Beaudoin said that despite higher energy, tax and wage costs in Northern Ireland than other Bombardier sites like China and Morocco, it was the skill and vision of the Belfast workers which had helped the company remain committed to the province.

"The biggest change I have seen in aviation and aerospace is the use of composites," he said.

"Twenty-five years ago, there were very few parts of planes made with composites.

"We started building very small components and developed that right through to our resin transfer infusion (RTI) technology to develop the wings of the CSeries. It has been a huge change in the industry and a lot of the technology was developed in Belfast.

"There is even now a research facility (the Northern Ireland Advanced Composites and Engineering Centre) next door to the Belfast headquarters where we work with other firms in different industries to see how they can develop composites."

Four of the top 100 aerospace and defence suppliers in the world are now based here, according to the Top 100 Aerospace Companies poll from business advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Belfast Telegraph