Flight signals next phase for Bombardier’s Belfast facility

City is getting ready to play key role in the expanding C-Series aircraft programme

The Bombardier CS100 passenger jet at the opening day of the Farnborough Airshow: the wings of the aircraft were designed and produced in Belfast. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The Bombardier CS100 passenger jet at the opening day of the Farnborough Airshow: the wings of the aircraft were designed and produced in Belfast. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

 

In just four days time Bombardier’s new C-Series aircraft, with its Belfast designed and produced wings, will take off on its first commercial flight with Swiss International Airlines.

It is a date marked firmly in Michael Ryan’s diary, because it is is one that the vice president and general manager of Bombardier Aerospace Belfast has been looking forward to.

According to Ryan the SWISS maiden flight from Zurich to Paris-Charles de Gaulle on July 15 shows not only Bombardier’s existing and potential customers that the C-Series is a reality - no longer a theoretical concept for a cutting edge new generation of aircraft - but actually one one that delivers revenues.

The SWISS air flight on Friday also represents an important next stage of the C-Series journey that began for Northern Ireland at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK in 2008.

Back then Bombardier pledged a £520 million investment, the largest single inward investment in the North, to support the research, design, manufacture and assembly of the C Series aircraft wings in Belfast.

Farnborough

That investment resulted in Northern Ireland developing the innovative, carbon-fibre composite technology that in turn produced the C-Series wings and today as Ryan, is more than happy to point out, at the 2016 Farnborough Air Show it is there for everyone to see as the SWISS C-Series CS100 graces the runway.

Bombardier has not had a smooth flight plan with its C-Series programme despite its ambitions to create the “world’s leanest, most economical aircraft” - it ran significantly over budget and initially struggled to attract buyers.

However, Ryan is confident that while there may be a few more hurdles to cross in the near future the outlook is very positive for Bombardier - not least thanks to significant injections of liquidity into the company, via the $1 billion US investment by the Government of Québec and an additional $1.5 billon investment by Quebec’s public pension fund manager.

Commercial flight

The first commercial SWISS C-Series flight signals the beginning of the next phase for Bombardier’s Belfast facility which has moved into full production on the aircraft programme.

Belfast is estimated to have delivered around 25 pairs of wings but it its also getting ready to play a key role in the expanding C-Series programme.

At the air show yesterday Bombardier also confirmed that its larger CS300 aircraft had secured the all important Transport Canada certification and that the first CS300 will be delivered to airBaltic of Latvia in the fourth quarter of 2016 - another welcome vote of confidence for its Northern Ireland workforce to savour.

According to Ryan its participation in the C-Series and its success in developing the aircraft’s composite wings, using its patented Resin Transfer Infusion (RTI) process, places it in a good position to exploit new “higher value” opportunities for the Belfast facility.

The wings are the largest and most complex composite structures manufactured and assembled in the UK using the RTI process.

Hundreds of Bombardier’s Northern Ireland employees have been involved in the aircraft programme so far. The Canadian group hope that the C-Series will generate more than 800 jobs during peak production - but that is still up in the air.

Bombardier is to cut 1,000 jobs in the North over the next two years.

However there is no doubt that the C-Series and Bombardier’s other key commercial and business aircraft programmes are helping to support hundreds of other jobs in the North through its supply chain.

Bombardier has a European supply chain totalling 900 firms - last year alone the aerospace group awarded around £85 million to its Northern Ireland suppliers.

Aerospace region

Northern Ireland is the eight largest aerospace region in terms of revenue in Europe but ADS, the UK’s national trade group which represents the aerospace, defence, security and space industries, and operates the Farnborough Air Show, believes local firms could increase their share of this important market.

Although the Brexit decision has sparked worries about what the future may hold for local exporters at Farnborough yesterday (MON) five leading Northern Ireland companies launched what they hope is a new venture which will help to showcase exactly what they can offer the global aerospace sector.

Local industry leaders BASE, Denroy Plastics, Moyola Precision Engineering, Dontaur Precision Engineering and Hutchinson Aerotech have teamed up, in a first for the North, to create the brand Causeway Aero.

They plan to offer a “full design and manufacturing solution” andJohn Rainey, chairman of Bangor based Denroy, said the five, who have been working together for the last 16 months, are already winning new business as a result of their collaboration.

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