Airbus warns Bombardier buyout talk 'premature'
The new chief executive of Airbus has said talk of the European aerospace giant acquiring Bombardier's Northern Ireland operation is "premature".
Guillaume Faury was initially quoted as telling reporters on Thursday that the Toulouse-based group was "looking at" potentially buying the Canadian firm's aerostructures division here.
"We will make sure that whatever happens preserves our interest," Mr Faury told The Guardian during a visit to London.
However, the chief executive later said any discussion of an acquisition was "premature".
It's two weeks since Bombardier announced its plan to exit the commercial aircraft business and end its 30-year relationship with Northern Ireland.
Its aerostructures operation - which includes sites next to Belfast City Airport, in Newtownabbey, Dunmurry and Newtownards - employs around 3,600 people.
But the local operation has significantly downsized in recent years. In November the Canadian firm announced plans to shed 490 jobs, which would cut its workforce to around half the 7,356 employed in 2002.
Bombardier's NI division specialises in aircraft components, including engine nacelles (casings), fuselages and wings.
Crucially for Airbus, it manufactures wings for the Airbus A220 aircraft. The European airframer acquired a majority stake in the jet series, formerly Bombardier's C-series, last summer.
US aerostructures manufacturer Spirit Aerosystems and Worcestershire-based aerospace components giant GKN have both been tipped as potential front-runners for the Bombardier business.
Kansas-based Spirit Aero, which has a UK base in Prestwick, Scotland, is heavily dependent on Boeing's crisis-hit 737 Max, and has recently expressed interest in acquisitions to diversify its business.
Both firms have so far declined to comment on any potential move. But The Department for Business in London has said it is in "regular conversation with a wide range of companies".
Bombardier has said any potential negotiations around the sale remain confidential.
During his London visit, Mr Faury said Airbus was open to the prospect of the Northern Ireland aerostructures business being run by another third-party supplier.
"We think wings are very close to our own business," he said. "The production could be coming from suppliers if they are reliable and have a long-term perspective. These are the options we will be looking at."
Airbus already operates its own wing manufacturing facilities for other aircraft in its portfolio, at Broughton in north Wales and at Filton, near Bristol.
The Unite Union has warned a venture capital-led acquisition of Bombardier's operation could spell the "kiss of death" for its 3,600 workforce and thousands more in the supply chain.
The union has called for the operation to be nationalised if a new owner seeks to it break up.