‘Too early’ to say if IP rights will be sold with Bombardier’s North operations

Technology developed in Belfast for CSeries aircraft considered to be key issue in any sale

 A Shorts factory in the harbour area of Belfast. Its   owner Bombardier has announced it is to sell its Belfast operation. Photograph: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

A Shorts factory in the harbour area of Belfast. Its owner Bombardier has announced it is to sell its Belfast operation. Photograph: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

 

Bombardier’s Belfast operation, Short Brothers plc, currently holds the valuable intellectual property (IP) rights to the pioneering technology it developed to manufacture the advanced composite wings for the CSeries aircraft, now the Airbus A220, the Canadian group has confirmed.

The IP rights to the unique resin transfer infusion process that was developed by Belfast engineers is considered by industry analysts to be a key issue in the sale of Bombardier’s Northern Ireland operations.

However, Bombardier has not disclosed if it plans to strip ownership of the IP rights of the resin transfer infusion process from its Northern Ireland operations as part of the sale process.

The Canadian group said it was “too early” to discuss what would or would not be included in the sale of its Northern Ireland operations to a potential new owner.

Bombardier, which has a core workforce of 3,600 people in the North, announced last week that it intended to sell its entire operations in the North as part of a strategy to consolidate its aerostructures business in Canada, Mexico and Texas.

The Canadian group’s chief executive, Alain Bellemare, stressed that its Northern Ireland operations were a “high-value business”, and it expected to attract strong interest in the division.

Industry sources have said that if Short Brothers plc retains the IP rights to the resin transfer infusion technology, it would make the Northern Ireland operation “decidedly more attractive” to potential buyers.

However, without the IP rights to the technology the Northern Ireland operations would be “left without one of its key assets”.

Manufacturing wings

Bombardier’s Belfast plants currently play a key role in the production of the Airbus A220 aircraft, and more than 1,000 people are directly employed in manufacturing wings for the aircraft in the North.

According to Airbus, the A220 has an order book of more than 500 aircraft to date, and it has set a long-term target of producing 14 aircraft a month in the future.

However, Airbus has also made no secret of the fact that it wants to significantly reduce costs on the A220 aircraft programme, with the result that all suppliers, including Bombardier’s Northern Ireland operations, could be vulnerable.

Airbus has said it is “monitoring” Bombardier’s plan to sell of its Northern Ireland operations but at this time it does not envisage there will be any impact on current A220 production schedules.