Thursday 15 November 2018

Airbus chief backs Theresa May's Brexit stance as plane-maker gives boost to Belfast

Airbus chief executive Tom Enders softens stance on UK over Brexit
Airbus chief executive Tom Enders softens stance on UK over Brexit
David Dufrenois, head of sales at C Series Aircraft, left, with Rob Dewar, head of engineering at C Series Aircraft; Christine de Gagne, director of cabin marketing at C Series Aircraft; and Antonio Da Costa, head of product marketing at Airbus, at the unveiling of Airbus’ new aircraft

Ryan McAleer and Sudip Kar-Gupta

Airbus chief executive Tom Enders gave his backing to the latest Brexit position set out by British Prime Minister Theresa May, softening criticism made on Friday when he had stated her government had "no clue" over the process.

"The Chequers statement appears to show that HM Government are going in the right direction. We are not shy to request that Brussels and our other home countries are similarly pragmatic and fair," said Mr Enders on Airbus' official Twitter account about Mrs May's meeting in Chequers, where she put forward a position of "a free trade area for goods" with the EU and close trade ties.

Meanwhile, aircraft wing production at Belfast's Bombardier plant is tipped to ramp up to meet the demand for the newly-rebranded A220 aircraft.

Formerly known as the C Series, the single-aisle plane was unveiled to great fanfare by its new majority owner, Airbus, at its Toulouse headquarters in France yesterday.

The CS100 and CS300 have been rechristened as the A220-100 and A220-300 respectively, slotting in along the Airbus product line - still led by the massively successful A320.

Senior figures in the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership (CSALP) claimed yesterday that there will be global demand for around 6,000 100 to 150-seater aircraft over the next 20 years.

Just 38 A220s have been delivered to date. With a backlog of 384 aircraft, production in the Belfast factory - which remains a Bombardier operation with around 1,000 staff - will need to increase to meet the aspirations of its new owners.

Rob Dewar, head of customer support and engineering at the CSALP, said yesterday that the production line in Belfast could escalate to produce over 100 sets of wings annually. He said the joint Airbus-Bombardier venture remains committed to Belfast as the sole production line for the wings, for now at least.

"The Belfast facility is designed and can ramp up to 110-120 aircraft, so it's going to be serving both lines in the beginning."

Airbus chief executive Tom Enders was not present in Toulouse yesterday, but its president of commercial aircraft, Guillaume Faury, said: "A hard Brexit is for us a matter of concern and we want to make clear the threats that a hard Brexit will cause."

He said the new partnership with Bombardier, which retains a 34pc stake, is good news for the Canadian firm's Belfast staff.

Asked whether the aerospace giant would remain committed to keeping wing production at Belfast in the long-term, he said: "Airbus is committed to the A220... we are very committed to our plants, to our production sites.

"We see ourselves as having a role in developing high skilled jobs around the world, and therefore the UK plays a big role, Belfast plays a big role, Europe plays a big role." (Additional reporting Reuters)

Irish Independent

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