Belfast Telegraph

Improving financial picture for Bombardier's Belfast business

 

Bombardier is still assessing how the sale of the CRJ programme will impact its workforce here
Bombardier is still assessing how the sale of the CRJ programme will impact its workforce here
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

Bombardier's up-for-sale Northern Ireland operation returned to an operating profit in 2018, new accounts show.

But the company has confirmed that six months into 2019 its workforce in Belfast now stands at just 3,500 - around 4,000 below its headcount at the turn of the millennium.

The Canadian aerospace giant, which still files its local company reports under Short Brothers plc, said it recovered from a $33.8m (£26.7m) operating loss in 2017 to report a $4.9m (£3.8m) operating profit in the 12 months to December 31, 2018.

However, a series of exceptional costs and charges, including a $24.2m (£19.1m) bill in the wake of a High Court judgment on pensions in October 2018, still left the operation with a pre-tax loss of $41.6m (£32.9m) for 2018, albeit an improvement on its pre-tax loss of $66.4m (£52.5m) in 2017.

The latter figure is higher than the $52.9m (£41.9m) pre-tax loss originally reported by Bombardier last year.

The company said it had applied new accounting standards in 2018, with its 2017 finances restated as a result.

Turnover in 2018 stood at $851m (£675.5m), down from $920m (£730m) in 2017. Deliveries for aircraft parts fell from 889 to 717 over the year. Bombardier said it was "due to changing programme requirements".

Bombardier's business aircraft accounted for $204m (£162m) in 2018. Fuselage, engine nacelles and flight components for the Global 5500 and 6500 business jets are made in Belfast. The composite horizontal stabiliser and other components for the new Global 7500 jet are also made here.

The new report described the certification awarded to the new plane series in 2018 as "vitally important".

Products for the Canadian firm's commercial aircraft generated $201 (£160m) for Short Brothers last year.

Bombardier has recently indicated its plans to exit the world of commercial aviation and last month agreed to sell its CRJ regional jet programme to Japan's Mitsubishi. The central fuselage for the CRJ is made in Belfast. The company said it's still reviewing the impact of the sale on its operation here.

Non-Bombardier products accounted for $264m (£210m) last year, dominated by parts for Airbus. The European giant acquired a majority stake in Bombardier's C Series jets last year, renaming it the A220, but the complete wings and fuselage components are still made in Belfast.

The local operation is also developing thrust reverser technology for the Airbus A320neo, backed by a £12m Government grant. Bombardier said it will secure long-term manufacturing jobs here on high-tech aircraft components.

But 2018 has been a difficult one for the local workforce. In November Bombardier announced it would cut 490 staff as part of its bid to shed 10% of its global workforce. It followed 375 job cuts in 2017.

According to the annual report, the average workforce during 2018 stood at 3,799, some 272 people below 2017. Most of the cuts were in operations.

Yesterday Bombardier said that six months into 2019, the number of staff here is now closer to 3,500, almost 4,000 below what it was in 2002 (7,356).

Although the company faced restructuring costs of $15.9m (£12.6m) to implement the redundancies, the smaller workforce cut $22.6m (£18m) from its 2018 staff costs to $231.1 (£182.8m).

Economist John Simpson said the results show on one hand the severe financial pressures that Bombardier's Northern Ireland division had been facing, but on the other, the significant degree of improvement in 2018 when compared to the previous year's figures.

"The tone of the annual report reflects a more optimistic interpretation of recent events and shows that the business performance has improved significantly, but not enough to relax the pressure to bring costs more into line with revenue," he said.

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