The multi-billion pound deal for Bombardier aeroplanes part-built in Belfast sends out the message that Northern Ireland is a world-leader in high-tech industry.
The potential £4.5bn investment by upmarket private aircraft firm NetJets could mean the construction of almost 300 planes, helping to preserve more than 400 jobs at Bombardier here.
The huge deal proves that Northern Ireland is still open for worldwide business despite the tough economic times.
Canadian-owned Bombardier, which employs more than 5,000 people in Northern Ireland, is to supply at least 100 Challenger aircraft to NetJets, an aviation leasing firm run by world famous investor Warren Buffett.
NetJets boasts a fleet of more than 700 aircraft globally.
While the initial deal is worth $2bn (£1.3bn), the benefits could rocket to $7bn (£4.5bn), one of the biggest orders ever seen in the industry, if options for a further 175 aircraft are completed.
Bombardier’s Northern Ireland operation is responsible for the design and manufacture of the centre fuselage and engine ‘nacelles’ — or covers — for the Challenger 605 aircraft, and the centre fuselage for the Challenger 300 business jet — which could soon be transporting a host of celebrities like Tiger Woods, Arnold Schwarzenegger and U2’s Bono.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said that the deal with NetJets was proof that Northern Ireland can be a world leader in the aviation industry.
“Bombardier’s agreement with NetJets is a tremendous endorsement of the technological expertise and capability available in Northern Ireland and signals the continued success of this multinational corporation,” she said.
A firm’s spokeswoman called the order a “huge vote of confidence” in Bombardier and its employees.
“Bombardier leads the business aircraft market in terms of sales revenue, and through our operations in Belfast, the UK plays a major role in this sector,” she said. “The
order will help to sustain jobs in our Northern Ireland operation.”
Jordan Hansell, chairman and chief executive at NetJets, said that the firm is “very impressed” with Bombardier’s portfolio.
“The Challenger 300 Series and Challenger 605 Series jets will be an excellent complement to our existing mid-cabin capabilities and overall fleet unmatched in private aviation,” he said.
“We are particularly appreciative that Bombardier has been responsive to our needs in bringing a NetJets configuration for our owners.”
Bombardier will also provide maintenance support and a parts service.
Earlier this year it was revealed that Bombardier had paid over £5m for the former Nortel premises at Monkstown.
It said it would house 600 staff working in departments including customer services, repair and the manufacture of nacelles, to leave more room for work on the wings of the new C-Series planes at its large base in east Belfast.
By Margaret Canning
Warren Buffett is a renowned American investor with a sprawling business empire, the tentacles of which have now reached Northern Ireland through NetJets’ massive deal with Bombardier.
The veteran businessman is considered to be the most successful investor of modern times and one of the world’s most influential people.
A pragmatic streak has helped him to expand his main business vehicle, the powerful conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, to include businesses like NetJets, which offers part-ownership of private business jets to the cash-rich, time-poor business people around the world.
He took NetJets over in 1998 after getting to know the business as a customer for three years. Yet it’s not just his massive wealth which has reassured him of a place in history.
He is also known as the Sage of Omaha for his philosophical side, characterised by folksy updates to his shareholders, and his personal frugality.
Like Microsoft’s Bill Gates he has pledged to give away most of his fortune to charity.
Buffett was diagnosed with cancer this year but his appetite for business has not waned.
He reached the headlines in more ways than one last year when Berkshire Hathaway agreed to pay around £100m for a chain of 63 US newspapers, as Buffett took the chance that community publications will survive an advertising dip.
The move deeper into media ownership was a volte-face for a man who previously said newspapers have “potential for unending losses”.
The son of a Republican congressman, Howard Buffett, his left-leaning political views led him to contribute to President Barack Obama’s 2008 US presidential election campaign.