Northern Ireland wing-makers boosted by order for 60 new Airbus jets
AIR France has ordered 60 Airbus A220 aircraft with the option of taking 30 more, representing the biggest endorsement to date by a European carrier for the plane.
The complete wings and fuselage components for the jet are made within Bombardier's Northern Ireland operation, which remains up for sale.
Along with a firm order for 60 of the larger model A220-300 jets, the deal struck with the Air France-KLM conglomerate includes an additional 30 purchase options and acquisition rights for another 30.
Airbus said it adds to the 551 A220 aircraft it already had on its order book at the end of June.
All sets of the composite wings for the planes, which carry up 160 passengers, are made by Bombardier's workforce in Northern Ireland.
A total of 3,500 people are employed across its sites in east Belfast, Newtownabbey, Dunmurry and Newtownards.
Airbus acquired a majority stake in the jet series, formerly known as the C Series, 13 months ago. Bombardier, which retains a 31% share, put its entire Northern Ireland operation up for sale in May.
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The wing programme is expected to be included in any sale, with the steady stream of A220 orders making the operation more attractive for potential bidders.
Spanish aircraft parts-maker Aernnova, US-based Spirit Aerosystems, UK group GKN and Airbus have all been linked with a potential acquisition.
The Air France-KLM group operates a fleet of 541 aircraft across three European carriers.
The company said the new A220s would primarily fly under the Air France banner from September 2021.
Benjamin Smith, chief executive of the group, said the A220s will gradually replace Air France's existing A318 and A319 fleet.
The company said it was attracted by the economical and environmental credentials of the jet, which generates 20% less CO2 emissions than comparable aircraft in its class. Air France said it would also reduce its cost per seat by more than 10% compared to the aircraft it will replace.
"We are very pleased to work with Airbus to add the A220-300 to our fleet, an aircraft that demonstrates optimum environmental, operational, and economic efficiency," said Mr Smith.
"The selection of the Airbus A220-300 supports our goal of a more sustainable operation, by significantly reducing CO2 and noise emissions. This aircraft will also provide our customers with additional comfort on the short- and medium-haul network and will provide our pilots with a connected cockpit with access to the latest navigation technology.
"This is a very important next step in Air France's transformation, and this evolution in Air France's fleet underlines the group's determination to attain European airline leadership," he added.