Bombardier close to sale of regional jet business

Centre fuselage of jets made in Belfast plant which is on the market

Bombardier’s Belfast plant is up for sale. Photograph: PA Wire

Bombardier’s Belfast plant is up for sale. Photograph: PA Wire

 

Confirmation that Bombardier is in talks to sell its CRJ regional jet business will create fresh uncertainty for up to 300 employees in Belfast.

The complete centre fuselage for three of the regional aircraft family – the CRJ700, CRJ900 and CRJ1000 jets – are designed and manufactured at the Canadian aerospace Northern Ireland facilities.

There are currently 1,900 regional CRJ jets in service in 90 countries . The Canadian planemaker has said it is aiming to make a decision on the future of its money-losing CRJ regional jet programme this year.

Last month Bombardier, which has a core workforce of 3,600 people in the North, put its entire Northern Ireland business on the market.

It confirmed on Wednesday that it was in talks with Japanese rival, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, about its CRJ regional jet programme.

In a statement, the group said: “While Bombardier does not generally comment publicly on market speculation or rumours, in light of recent media reports, Bombardier believes it is prudent to advise stakeholders that it is in discussions with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. with respect to its CRJ Program.”

Separately Mitsubishi Heavy Industries issued a statement confirming that it was holding “discussions relating to a possible transaction involving Bombardier’s regional jet program with strict adherence to the applicable competition rules and regulations”.

Both have stressed that the current talks process may not necessarily result in a sale.

The discussions between Bombardier and Mitsubishi raise important questions about the sale of Bombardier’s Northern Ireland operations. Union and industry leaders in the North believe the best option for Bombardier Belfast is to be “sold as one lot”.

Michael Mulholland from the GMB Union said that while the CRJ regional jet series is one of Bombardier’s older programmes, there are still between 200 to 300 workers directly employed on its production lines.

“This is an ageing programme that is more than 20 years old but if Mitsubishi were to acquire CRJ programme then they might inject some life into it and that would be good, I would hope that Belfast could continue to be a supplier to the programme,” Mr Mulholland added.

The CRJ talks come amid a legal challenge between the two companies.

The Montreal-based company sued Mitsubishi Heavy unit Mitsubishi Aircraft last year, alleging that former Bombardier employees passed on trade secrets to help with the development and certification of the company’s new MRJ regional jet.

– Additional reporting, Reuters