US deal for Bombardier operations could lead to expansion of Belfast plant
Bosses at Bombardier have spoken of their hopes for "an exciting future" after the aerospace giant agreed to sell its Northern Ireland operations as part of a deal worth around $1.1bn (£850m).
The agreement with Spirit AeroSystems also includes Bombardier's business in Casablanca, Morocco, and its maintenance, repair and overhaul facility in Dallas in the United States.
In addition to $500m (£386m) in cash, the purchase includes the assumption of liabilities valued at over $700m (£541m).
The aircraft manufacturer employs around 3,600 people in Northern Ireland and has owned the former Shorts factory in Belfast since 1989.
Kansas-based Spirit AeroSystems is worth an estimated $7bn and employs around 15,000 workers worldwide.
It supplies Boeing and Airbus plane manufacturers. The wings for the Airbus A220 are made at Bombardier's Belfast plant.
Michael Ryan, chief operations officer for Aerostructures at Bombardier Aviation, said: "Through this agreement with Bombardier, we are delighted that Spirit, a global, tier-one aerostructure manufacturer and supplier, has recognised our unique offering and growth potential. We look forward to an exciting future ahead."
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Spirit AeroSystems president and chief executive Tom Gentile said: "The Bombardier operations bring world-class engineering expertise to Spirit and add to a strong track record of innovation, especially in advanced composites.
"Belfast has developed an impressive position in business jet fuselage production, in addition to the world-acclaimed fully integrated A220 composite wing.
"This acquisition is in line with our growth strategy of increasing Airbus content, developing low-cost country footprint, and growing our aftermarket business."
The business is a global player in aerostructures and fabrication, its new owner said, delivering composite and metallic wing components, nacelles, fuselages and tail assemblies, along with high-value mechanical assemblies made out of aluminium, titanium and steel.
The transaction, which is expected to close in the first half of next year, is subject to regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions.
Spirit AeroSystems said it expected to make around $60m savings from the acquisition.
Bombardier is based in Montreal and has more than 68,000 employees in 28 countries. It employed thousands across several locations in Northern Ireland - east Belfast, Newtownabbey, Dunmurry and Newtownards - over the last 30 years.
Unite the union assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: "Today's deal will see Bombardier's footprint here transfer as a whole to one of the world's largest independent producers of aerostructures." Susan Fitzgerald, Unite regional co-ordinating officer, said the workers and the skills base they possess are world-class and offer any prospective owner a huge platform for future growth.
Paul Everitt, chief executive of ADS, which represents the UK's aerospace, defence, security and space sectors, said Spirit AeroSystems' acquisition opens up new opportunities for the Belfast facility to grow.
"With the future of the operations assured, the exceptional workforce at the Belfast facility will now be able to continue to use their world-class expertise and skills as an integral part of the aerospace industry," he said.
"We look forward to working closely with Spirit as they continue to grow their UK footprint."
Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi described the deal as "a great endorsement of our incredible aerospace industry", adding: "The Belfast factory builds great wings for Airbus."
Last year Bombardier survived the threatened imposition of huge US tariffs on its cutting-edge and ultra-economical planes following a complaint from rival manufacturer Boeing.
It has significantly reduced its workforce at the wing-making plant in Belfast.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said: "Bombardier is absolutely integral to Northern Ireland and since the partnership with Airbus there has been an upturn in orders for the A220 planes."
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said this is "great news" for Northern Ireland and said the Belfast plant is "one of the most important aerospace facilities in the United Kingdom".