Belfast Telegraph

Brexit: Airbus frustration 'shared by Northern Ireland industry'

By Margaret Canning

The head of a Northern Ireland aerospace parts firm has said the sector needs to follow the lead of European giant Airbus in voicing its dissatisfaction at a lack of clarity over Brexit.

Joanne Liddle, managing director of IPC Mouldings, which employs 25 people in Carrickfergus, said she "understood" the frustration expressed by the French giant.

Airbus has publicised a risk assessment stating that should there be a 'no deal' Brexit, there would be severe disruption and interruption to production in the UK.

The firm said that would force it to reconsider its investment in the UK, where it employs 15,000.

Airbus has entered into an agreement with Canadian giant Bombardier for the assembly in the US of its C Series jets, the wings of which are made in Belfast. However, the staff working on the wings remain Bombardier employees.

A spokeswoman for Bombardier said it had no specific comment to make on the Airbus statement, but added that it backed the position taken on Brexit by UK aerospace trade body ADS.

ADS said the Airbus statement demonstrated the risks facing its manufacturing base as uncertainty continues over the UK's relationship with the EU after withdrawal.

It called on the Government to find ways to ensure that the UK maintains regulatory alignment with the EU and frictionless customs arrangements to enable the industry to compete globally.

A number of aerospace firms in Northern Ireland - including Hutchinson Engineering in Kilrea and Moyola Precision Engineering in Castledawson - supply parts to Airbus.

The firms could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ms Liddle, whose company makes parts for airplane seats such as latches, food trays and plastics used in armrests, said: "I would say first and foremost that none of us are sure what the outcome of Brexit will be.

"A lot more work needs to be done. I can understand Airbus coming out and having that frustration, and it does send ripples down through us all."

She said it was getting more difficult to plan for the future.

"It's very, very hard to plan for the unknown. I have just been listening to what's going on in the industry and I've been attending events but there just isn't any clarity about what's happening," she added.

Ms Liddle said the firm was having to simultaneously build in extra costs to cover potential tariffs in its planning for the future while keeping existing costs as streamlined as possible.

And she insisted other aerospace firms needed to make their voice heard, like Airbus. "They are venting their frustration and now it's up to us to start lobbying, too," she said.

"We are keeping a very close eye on our costs to make sure that whatever happens, we remain competitive.

"We also import goods so that means we are unsure about tariffs. We have to have more clarity on that - and the lack of Stormont has been a hindrance on every level."

While the firm is not a direct supplier to Airbus, "their strategy does dictate what happens further down the supply chain".

Jeegar Kakkad, chief economist and director of policy at ADS, said he believed a lack of certainty over Brexit "has worried companies and supply chains for the past 12 months".

"We all share Airbus' concerns and we need more certainty," he said.

He added that local firms were worried about delays at borders, both on the island of Ireland and between the EU and the south coast of England.

"There are members of ADS in Belfast who import goods which are shipped up from the Continent to Dover and up through the rest of the UK and into Belfast," he explained.

"Even if you have all your forms in order and all the right certifications, if the lorry in front doesn't have forms in order or has to be stopped for security checks, that causes delays to you.

"We operate on a 'just in time' basis where all forms of parts have to be on an assembly line just when you need them, otherwise there are costs and delays."

He said some firms might opt to store additional stock near their customers so that they have supply that can reach them at short notice.

Belfast Telegraph

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