Belfast Telegraph

Bitter Boeing-Bombardier lawsuit could spell disaster for Northern Ireland workers

Frantic diplomatic efforts to save Bombardier jobs

By John Mulgrew

The fate of hundreds of Northern Ireland jobs at plane-making giant Bombardier could rest in the hands of US President Donald Trump amid a cross-Atlantic diplomatic trade row.

Prime Minister Theresa May will now meet with her Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, in Canada next week following a call to Mr Trump over a massive industry challenge which could "threaten the future of the Bombardier site in Belfast".

It centres around an ongoing case, brought by US aviation giant Boeing, that the sale of Bombardier's aircraft, in particular its flagship C Series passenger jets, are being 'subsidised', in part, due to a $1billion bailout by the regional Quebec government.

A challenge by airline rival Boeing, if successful, could effectively price-out and cut off Bombardier's largest market, the US, and lead to hundreds of job losses.

Bombardier in Belfast warned in a fresh statement that, as the city is responsible for key elements of the C Series planes, it is "critical to the long-term future of our Northern Ireland operations".

Close to 1,000 of Bombardier's 4,500 Northern Ireland staff are currently working on the flagship C Series jets.

DUP leader Arlene Foster told the Belfast Telegraph she would continue to engage with government ministers "over the next few weeks until the US Department of Commerce rules".

Mrs May has asked President Trump to help broker a deal in the spat between Boeing and Bombardier.

But one source told the Belfast Telegraph that Boeing will not back down on their case against Bombardier, as the firm is "not shadow boxing".

"For long-term strategic reasons, they will push through with their objection on the C Series Delta sale," he said.

"Anything that significantly slows or collapses the C Series deliveries to Delta is frankly very alarming for short-term employment at Bombardier."

Bombardier's Northern Ireland workforce could find out on September 25 whether the US Department of Commerce will rule in favour of Boeing, and impose duties against Bombardier.

And if successful, the claims brought by Boeing to the US Department of Commerce of unfair competition by Bombardier's C Series could result in punitive fines, threatening the future of the Bombardier site in Belfast, according to Davy Thompson of trade union Unite.

"At present 1,000 workers, or about 25%, are employed on C Series production here but in four years' time that number is expected to rise to 60% of jobs on site," he said.

Mrs Foster said since the issue "first arose at the start of the summer", there has been "action from right across the Cabinet, including the Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Business Secretary all actively involved alongside the Prime Minister".

"That action continues and both myself and Gavin Robinson MP have been engaging with ministers even over the last few days," she said.

The aviation industry body here, ADS, said it would expect the government to take all appropriate steps to support the company's continued commitment to aerospace manufacturing in the UK.

Its chief executive Paul Everitt said: "Bombardier is an important part of our aerospace industry, employing thousands of people here in the UK.

"Its aerospace engineering business in the UK has high potential for future growth and the Belfast site works with a supply chain of more than 800 companies in the UK and Ireland.

"Manufacturing of Bombardier's C Series aircraft is making a substantial contribution to the UK economy, with hundreds more orders set to be fulfilled in the coming years."

Bombardier in Northern Ireland has already faced significant cutbacks, with 1,080 jobs lost across the company in the last 18 months.

A Westminster spokesman said: "Our priority is to encourage Boeing to drop its case and seek a negotiated settlement with Bombardier.

"This is a commercial matter, but the UK government is working tirelessly to safeguard Bombardier's operations and its highly skilled workers in Belfast."

Bombardier has struggled to meet sales targets for its CS100 and CS300 aircraft. Around 800 workers in Belfast produce the wings and part of the fuselage of the jets.

It has landed several big deals for the planes, the largest of which was with US airline Delta for 125 CS100 jets.

Bombardier in Belfast said: "Bombardier strongly disagrees with the assertions made by Boeing in its petition regarding the alleged threat caused by future exports of the C Series family of aircraft to the US.

"We are responding to the petition proceedings, and will not speculate on the impact on our Belfast site should the Boeing petition be successful.

"However, as Bombardier Belfast is responsible for the design, manufacture and assembly of the advanced composite wings for the C Series aircraft, the C Series programme is critical to the long-term future of our Northern Ireland operations."

Belfast Telegraph

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