Editor's Viewpoint: Securing buyer soon vital for Bombardier
The announcement that Canadian plane-maker Bombardier is pulling out of Belfast and putting its entire operation here up for sale came with devastating suddenness.
Perhaps the writing was on the wall for those perceptive enough to read it, as continual cuts to the workforce and the company's global restructuring and diversification appeared to point in only one direction.
Nevertheless, this is a worrying time for the 3,600 employees at the plants in Belfast, Newtownabbey, Dunmurry and Newtownards, and at least as many again in the supply chain. These are small to medium sized enterprises, many of whom will have tied their fortunes to those of Bombardier and who will now be as keen as anyone, if not more so, to see a buyer emerge.
The future of Bombardier in whatever shape and ownership is of paramount importance to the Northern Ireland economy as it is the largest manufacturing company here, paying good wages and contributing hugely to the province's exports and research and development output.
The speed of transfer to a new owner is also of crucial importance. While no new job cuts were announced yesterday, Bombardier made it clear that local management would continue to streamline the company to make it more attractive to would-be buyers.
If it takes any great length of time to find new owners, many of the 500 job cuts announced late last year could take place, losing valuable skilled workers from the economy.
Plane-making in Belfast has a distinguished heritage dating back to the 1940s when it contributed to the war effort, and Bombardier's acquisition of the former Short Brothers business was recognition of the talent available here.
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Indeed that expertise was further developed with the company's extensive use of composite materials in body parts for new aircraft which gained Belfast an international reputation for innovation.
Other traditional manufacturing jobs here went to the wall in the face of cheaper production costs in developing countries, but the aerospace industry requires expertise, not lack of expense, and Belfast and its satellite companies tick many of the boxes of potential buyers.
Bombardier workers have been accustomed to worrying times but this is on a new scale. The hope of everyone is that a new, reputable buyer willing to invest in the people and plant will be found as soon as possible.