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Bombardier to sell Belfast operation

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Alain Bellemare, president and chief executive officer of Bombardier Inc., speaks during an event in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Photographer: Christinne Muschi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier is selling its Belfast plant, the company announced Thursday.

Bombardier employs around 3,600 workers in Northern Ireland, making it one of the largest private sector employers in the region.

The company said it would also pursue the sale of its Morocco-based business.

The moves come as a result of Bombardier’s plan to consolidate “all aerospace assets into a single, streamlined, and fully integrated business,” the company said in a statement.

“As the Company moves to optimize its global manufacturing footprint, Bombardier will pursue the divestiture of the Belfast and Morocco aerostructures businesses. These are great businesses with tremendous capabilities.”

The company’s aerospace division will now be located in Montreal, Mexico, and a newly acquired base in Texas.

The Belfast facility, which was opened in 2013, primarily produces wings for Airbus A220 aircraft. In Northern Ireland’s largest-ever inward investment, Bombardier spent around £520m on the plant.

Bombardier’s other sites in Northern Ireland — in Newtownabbey, Newtownards, and Dunmurry — will also be affected.

A general view of the Bombardier Aerospace plant in Belfast. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images

Bombardier has had a presence in Northern Ireland since 1989, when it purchased Short Brothers.

The first company in the world to make production aircraft, Short Brothers moved its headquarters from Kent to Belfast in 1948.

Just two days ago, the company said it had suspended a compulsory redundancy process, a decision welcomed by unions.

In November, Bombardier said it wanted to cut up to 500 jobs from its Northern Irish operations as part of its global restructuring.

In a separate statement on Thursday, the company said that while there were “no new workforce announcements as a result of this decision,” it would “continue to drive ongoing transformation initiatives” in order to make the Northern Ireland unit more attractive to potential buyers.

A spokesperson for prime minister Theresa May said it was “disappointing that the Belfast plant is no longer part of Bombardier's future plans.”

“This will be unsettling for the workers and their families. However the company has a healthy order book and is not expecting further job losses.”

In a statement, union Unite expressed hope that any prospective new owner would commit to local production in Northern Ireland and invest in the operations there.

“Unite will be seeking assurances from Bombardier and the government around this process. It doesn’t matter whose name is above the gate — what matters is that we safeguard jobs and skills in this critical industry,” Jackie Pollock, the union’s regional secretary, said.

Bombardier, which has factories in 28 countries, has been under pressure from shareholders in recent years, after attempts to compete with market-leading aircraft from Boeing and Airbus foundered.