Belfast Telegraph

Airbus-Bombardier: New hope on horizon as Belfast workers greet news of deal

By John Mulgrew

The Airbus move to buy a majority stake in Bombardier's C Series passenger jet programme will help secure the future of the Canadian plane maker's Northern Ireland workforce - and could see new deals following soon.

Airbus is acquiring just over 50% of the C Series programme in a move which could help safeguard thousands of jobs in Belfast, where the wings are made.

It's thought the development could help secure Bombardier's at-risk multi-billion pound deal to provide the aircraft to Delta Air Lines, while further sales to the US could also now be on the horizon.

The Airbus move comes as a challenge to the might of the US administration and one of the world's largest plane-making competitors, Boeing. It took a case against Bombardier which could see US sales facing a 300% import duty. Now, Airbus plans to extend its own US facility, in order to complete building the C Series in America.

One worker at Bombardier in Belfast said the deal was "good news" and "strengthens the C Series programme".

"I would say most people in Belfast are cautious and curious about how it's going to affect Bombardier in the future.

"I guess most people are wondering if this is the tip of Airbus taking over - there could be worse companies to work for."

Martin Craigs, a former Shorts/Bombardier marketing man who also worked for Airbus, said the "back channels" have worked and "once Airbus are fully in control, new airline deals on the C Series will quickly be secured".

"The news is the best possible outcome for my former Short Brothers colleagues," he said.

"It plays to their strengths and shows off the credibility of their marketing muscle."

The GMB union welcomed the deal between Bombardier and Airbus, but warned that the "devil will be in the detail".

It said it will raise concerns about the legal implications of the deal at a meeting it will hold with Bombardier in Belfast tomorrow.

"This deal is liable to further scrutiny from the US administration that may see it as an attempt to dodge their trade tariffs," it said.

"GMB hopes both Bombardier and Airbus have taken cast iron legal advice to ensure they don't get rid of one legal challenge only to open themselves up to another."

The deal is expected to complete in the second half of 2018.

Bombardier's Belfast boss, Michael Ryan, said the deal was "great news for our Belfast site".

"This is a tremendous opportunity for us to build on our existing supplier relationship with Airbus," he commented.

US plane manufacturer Boeing responded by saying it "looks like a questionable deal between two heavily state-subsidised competitors to skirt the recent findings of the US government."

However, Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, commented: "We believe this is very good news.

"It confirms the quality and competitiveness advantage of the C Series aircraft and that it deserves to be in the market.

"Leveraging the Airbus sales, marketing and supply chain will accelerate the C Series programme which is great news for jobs in Belfast and throughout the Bombardier estate.

"The deal doesn't immediately change the challenges in the US market brought about by Boeing's absurd claim to the US Department of Commerce, nor indeed their ridiculous response, but the world aviation market is a big place and there are lots of customers needing an aircraft like this.

"Belfast workers were preparing to ramp up their production of C Series wings so while nothing in this world is ever permanent, this looks like good news for the short and medium term."

DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA said the announcement represented "incredibly significant news for Bombardier" in Belfast and Northern Ireland.

However, Jimmy Kelly, Ireland secretary for trade union Unite, said the Airbus deal "will take almost a year to complete and the process could be held up or overturned through an anti-trust challenge".

"It is already clear that Boeing will seek to defend the tariffs on the C Series regardless of Airbus's involvement," Mr Kelly said.

Meanwhile, Business Secretary Greg Clark promised to continue efforts to resolve the trade dispute with the US as he welcomed the deal between Airbus and Bombardier. Mr Clark told the Commons that the Government would "seek to strike out and to resolve" the row.

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.