Bombardier Sends Bullish Message on Future of Belfast Plant

 - November 30, 2018, 10:16 AM

Bombardier Aerostructures & Engineering Services (BAES) wants to extend its contribution to Airbus commercial aircraft programs, BAES president Michael Ryan told reporters during a recent briefing in London. Already providing equipment such as engine nacelles, Bombardier earlier in the year sealed a partnership with the European manufacturer and Canadian provincial government investors under which its struggling C Series design has become the Airbus A220, for which BAES builds the composite-material wings.

Since July 1, BAES and Airbus "have been getting to know each other" and now Ryan sees a chance to become a bigger fish in the major OEM's supplier pond. Ryan arrived in London not from his Belfast headquarters in Northern Ireland but from two days in Toulouse, at the Airbus commercial-aircraft factory in southwest France where, he said, he has spent more time recently than in the whole of his previous career.

Under a majority stake in the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership, Airbus has become Ryan's biggest customer with A220 wings and existing nacelle work, including thrust reversers for the A320neo’s Pratt & Whitney PW1100G geared turbofan. "After years of being a third-party [provider], Bombardier is now a main supplier," said Ryan.

Apart from immediate provision for the A220, the executive sees the new relationship providing BAES with other opportunities. "It's not just nacelles; we have only ourselves to blame if we do not offer to employ all our resources," he said, referencing wings, specifically.

"Airbus has never bought wings from outside before,” noted Ryan. “[They] might say 'Your wings are too dear, come and see how we do it.' We say our wing is the latest technology."

Ryan points out that Bombardier is three years into a five-year transformation program "and the business truly is transforming.”

“In commercial aircraft this year we saw the C Series partnership with Airbus, the sale of the Q400 aircraft family, and the Global 7500 has been certified,” he explained.

"At our Q3 results, [Bombardier president] Alain Bellemare said our rail, business aircraft, and aerostructures businesses…have strong market positions, unique capabilities, industry-leading portfolio, and strong backlogs; this will be where we will deploy our capital to drive strong returns on investments,” added Ryan. “[That] message reaffirms the importance of our aerostructures business, and points towards a bright future for our Belfast operation which is core to that business."

The bullish approach extends to local employment in Northern Ireland, where BAES has resumed recruiting graduate apprentices following a two-year hiatus, despite recently dismissing 490 workers under wider Bombardier restructuring. The cuts affect "every part" of the Belfast company, but will leave BAES with the number of people required "to be competitive and sustainable, provide protection for the product development cycle, and take advantage of opportunities," concluded Ryan.