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Editor's Viewpoint

Key industries can't be allowed to wither

Editor's Viewpoint


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Bombardier's base in Belfast

Bombardier's base in Belfast

Bombardier's base in Belfast

The potential loss of 600 jobs at Bombardier's Belfast plant is a huge blow to the Northern Ireland economy. Three years ago, it was estimated that employee wages put £158m into the economy and no doubt that figure has increased in the interim.

However, the announcement of redundancies - 400 permanent staff and 200 agency staff - is not unexpected given the shredding effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the aerospace industry. The skies above Europe and even further afield are virtually empty as airlines park fleets of aircraft due to lack of demand. It is estimated that flights have fallen by 90% since the virus went global.

It is one of the great ironies of the economic downturn that two of Northern Ireland's most successful and highly-skilled manufacturing companies should be victims of their own success.

Last week, Portadown aircraft seat manufacturer Thompson Aero announced 500 redundancies. Like Bombardier, it is a recognised global player in its sector, with its seats being fitted to many of the world's most prestigious airlines' fleets.

The decision by the two companies to shed jobs will send a ripple of fear through the supply chain. It is estimated that the aerospace industry here employs 10,000 people in total and there will be concern that smaller companies who feed components into Bombardier and Thompson Aero may see their order books dwindle and employees' jobs threatened.

The announcement of redundancies has led to the ritual demand from trades unions for the Northern Ireland Executive to do something to support the firms and the Executive saying it will offer affected employees help to find other jobs or retrain.

However, it is clear that greater assistance is required and that could include a subvention from the Treasury. This industrial sector is vital to Northern Ireland, both for its export potential, but also for the quality of work and the level of salaries on offer.

Getting the airlines back in the air is going to take some considerable time and these valuable industries cannot be allowed to wither while awaiting lift-off.

At the end of the day, there are hundreds of families now fearing for their future. Without alternative employment of any sort - never mind of the value found within the aerospace industry - the outlook for them is bleak unless urgent intervention is made.

Belfast Telegraph