Bombardier sell-off puts 4,000 jobs in jeopardy
Almost 4,000 jobs in Belfast are at risk following the shock announcement by aerospace giant Bombardier that it is to sell off its aerostructures operations.
The transport company, based in Northern Ireland for 30 years, stated it is committed to finding the right buyer.
No new job cuts have been announced but political leaders expressed concern about the future of 3,600 workers.
Bombardier is already embarking on a series of cost-cutting measures within its Northern Ireland business. In November it announced plans to shed 490 jobs, which would leave its workforce at 3,600, around half of what it was in 2002.
The company's operation here specialises in aircraft components, including engine nacelles (casings), fuselages and wings.
Although Bombardier made no reference to Brexit in its statement, efforts to find a buyer willing to invest in the plant could be complicated by uncertainty about tariffs and customs arrangements between the UK and the EU.
Airbus, which might have been seen as a potential buyer, has voiced grave concern about the impact of Brexit on its investment in the UK.
Based largely in a facility next to Belfast City Airport, it also operates from sites in Newtownabbey, Dunmurry and Newtownards.
Bombardier bought the Short Brothers operation in 1989. The original company emerged from London in 1908, with Shorts setting up an aircraft building programme with Harland and Wolff in Belfast in 1936. The facility became increasingly important during WWII and by 1948, Shorts became a Belfast company in its entirety.
Despite reporting an increase in work in Northern Ireland, Bombardier said yesterday its future no longer lies in commercial aviation.
Chief executive Alain Bellemare told shareholders during yesterday's AGM that Bombardier will focus on business aircraft and rail in future.
In a statement, the company said: "We understand that this announcement may cause concern among our employees, but we will be working closely with them and our unions as matters progress, and through any future transition period to a new owner."
Unite regional secretary Jackie Pollock said staff had been left in shock. "It doesn't matter whose name is above the gate - what matters is that we safeguard jobs and skills in this critical industry," he said.
UK Business Secretary Greg Clark said he had spoken with Bombardier's senior leadership in Canada following yesterday's announcement.
Describing the Belfast plant as one of the most important aerospace facilities, he said it will be highly sought after.
Roger Pollen of the Federation of Small Businesses said Bombardier had created an intricate supply chain in Northern Ireland that includes many small and medium-sized companies.
"It is crucial that a suitable buyer is found for the operation, who can continue to sustain a vibrant aerospace sector locally," he said.
But Northern Ireland-based aviation expert Martin Craigs has said he sale could turn out to be a blessing in disguise, acting as a catalyst for investment and job creation.