Belfast set to benefit as Airbus welcomes Bombardier C Series to family with new name
Wing production at Belfast's Bombardier plant is expected to ramp up to meet demand for the rebranded A220 aircraft under Airbus.
Formerly the C Series, the single aisle jet with new livery was unveiled to great fanfare by its majority owner at Airbus' Toulouse headquarters yesterday.
The CS100 and CS300 have been rechristened the A220-100 and A220-300 respectively, slotting in along the familiar Airbus product line, still led by the massively successful A320.
But while the mood in France was a celebratory one, the hard work now begins to push sales of the rebranded aircraft around the world.
Senior figures in the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership (CSALP) claimed yesterday that the global market for 100-150 seater aircraft will demand around 6,000 planes over the next 20 years.
Just 38 A220s have been delivered to date.
With a backlog of 384 aircraft, production in the Belfast wing factory - which remains a Bombardier operation with around 1,000 staff - will need to significantly increase to meet the aspirations of Airbus.
Rob Dewar, the head of customer support and engineering at CSALP, said yesterday that the production line in Belfast could escalate to produce more than 100 sets of wings annually.
He said the joint Airbus-Bombardier venture remains committed to the city.
The main fuselage for the A220 is constructed at Bombardier's Mirabel plant near Montreal.
Another production line is to be introduced in Mobile, Alabama.
Mr Dewar said Belfast would be the sole production line for the wing - for now at least.
"The Belfast facility is designed and can ramp up to 110-120 aircraft, so it's going to be serving both lines in the beginning," he said.
"Of course, based on the demand, we'll be looking at increasing capacity with them and other suppliers."
Senior figures from CSALP deflected questions on whether a second wing production line could be added elsewhere in Europe to meet their ambitions and provide a contingency in the event of a hard Brexit affecting the Belfast operation.
"To be honest, moving a wing is very complicated and takes quite a bit of time," said Mr Dewar.
"We are following the situation closely, but we are very committed to the line in Belfast."
Airbus chief executive Tom Enders has been outspoken in his criticism of the UK's Government's handling of Brexit.
He was not present at the Henri-Ziegler delivery centre in Toulouse yesterday, and Airbus president of commercial aircraft Guillaume Faury was more reserved in his commentary on Theresa May's Cabinet woes.
"I think Airbus has been rather clear on what we expect and what we fear from Brexit," he said.
"A hard Brexit is for us a matter of concern and we want to make clear the threats that a hard Brexit will cause."
Mr Faury said the new partnership with Bombardier, which retains a 34% stake, is good news for the Canadian firm's Belfast workforce.
"I think for everybody who is working on the A220 and Bombardier, the partnership with Airbus is a very positive message. It gives a lot of credibility for the success of the plane and I think this is a very positive message for all employees, including the ones in Belfast, on the C Series product becoming the A220," he said.
Asked whether the European aerospace giant would remain committed to keeping wing production at Belfast's Bombardier operation in the long-term, the Airbus boss said: "Airbus is committed to the A220... we are very committed to our plants, to our production sites.
"We see ourselves as having a role in developing high skilled jobs around the world, and therefore the UK plays a big role, Belfast plays a big role, Europe plays a big role."
There was also little clarity from senior CSALP figures yesterday on reports that Gulf Air had pulled its order for 10 of the aircraft. Head of sales David Dufrenois said there was "no comment on ongoing discussions with our new customers".
A turbulent flight for aircraft from Canada to Belfast and Toulouse
2008 – C Series revealed and plan for wings to be built in Belfast is biggest ever inward investment by a company here, a £510m spend by Bombardier.
2013 – The maiden test flight of the CS100 passenger plane.
June 2015 – The CS300 plane flies into Belfast for the first time but the launch has been marred by delays and over-running costs. The programme by this stage is around three years behind
schedule and £1bn over budget.
October 2015 – Bombardier and Airbus enter secret talks about the European operator providing backing. The talks fall through.
In the same month, Canada’s regional Quebec government buys a $1bn stake in the C Series.
April 2016 – Delta Air Lines in the US reaches a deal for up to 125 C Series planes, which triggers a competition action by Boeing.
July 2016 – Maiden flight of
C Series, in Swiss airline livery, at Farnborough International Airshow.
September and October 2017 – Rulings in favour of Boeing could see 300% tariff on US sales
October 2017 – Airbus takes on majority stake in C Series.
January 2018 – US International Trade Commission overturns potential tariffs.
July – C Series renamed A220 by Airbus.