Bombardier will sell its aerostructures businesses in Belfast and Morocco as part of consolidating its aerospace enterprise into a “single, streamlined and fully integrated” unit located at sites in Montreal, Mexico, and Texas. The newly created Bombardier Aviation division will encompass both business aircraft and CRJ regional jets, the company announced Thursday. David Coleal, president of Bombardier Business Aircraft since 2015, will lead the new unit.
“It is the right next step in our transformation,” Bombardier group president and CEO Alain Bellemare noted. “The consolidation will simplify and better focus our organization on our leading brands—Global, Challenger, Learjet, and the CRJ. It will also allow us to better support our customers and generate value for shareholders.”
As part of the wider shakeup of its aviation business, Bombardier already sold a controlling stake in its most ambitious project ever—the C Series narrowbody airliner—to Airbus in July 2018 and the Q400 turboprop program to Canadian airframe maker Viking Air for $300 million in November. The C Series—now renamed Airbus A220—and Q Series transactions leave the CRJ regional jet as the sole remaining commercial aircraft program for Bombardier Aerospace. Bombardier also sold its business aircraft training unit to CAE for $645 million last year. Conversely, it acquired the Red Oaks, Texas-based wing manufacturing operation of its Global 7500—Bombardier’s flagship business jet—from U.S.-based Triumph Group in January.
The newly acquired Global 7500 wing operations in Texas along with the facilities in Montréal and Mexico will provide Bombardier “with all the skills, technologies and capabilities to design, produce and service the current and next generation of aircraft,” Bellemare said. While no longer part of its global manufacturing footprint, Bombardier called the Belfast and Morocco aerostructures units “great businesses with tremendous capabilities.”
Bombardier Belfast declined to give interviews to discuss the planned divestiture and whether negotiations with a possible takeover candidate have begun. In an e-mailed statement to AIN, it called its Canadian parent “committed to finding the right buyer—one that will operate responsibly and help us achieve our full growth potential.” Both Belfast and Morocco sites have seen a “significant increase” in work from other global customers in recent years. “We are recognized as a global leader in aerostructures, with unique end-to-end capabilities—through design and development, testing and manufacture, to after-market support,” it claimed. In addition to Bombardier programs, customers include Airbus, General Electric, International Aero Engines, Irkut, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls-Royce. The Canadian OEM bought the Belfast business, at the time called Short Brothers, in 1989. It ranks as the largest manufacturing company in Northern Ireland and produces around 10 percent of Northern Ireland's total manufacturing exports.
“Many of the company’s 3,600 employees will be left asking what this will mean for the long-term future of their jobs,” commented Jackie Pollock, regional secretary of the Unite trade union in Ireland. “[The planned sale] will come as a shock to the entire Bombardier workforce in Northern Ireland.”
UK aerospace trade group ADS chief executive Paul Everitt called on the government, industry, and the trade unions to work together to help secure the long-term ownership of the business and its supply chain in Northern Ireland, presently unsettled by the potential disruptions of a so-called hard-Brexit. “Bombardier’s Belfast business has a tremendous workforce and capabilities that are an important part of a successful aerospace sector in Northern Ireland and the wider UK,” he said. “It plays a critical role in supplying components for major aircraft models, including wings for Airbus’s technologically advanced A220 and structures for the successful A320neo.”