As Bombardier Flails, Belfast Factory Seeks More Outside Work

(Bloomberg) -- The head of Bombardier Inc.’s plane-wings plant in Northern Ireland is looking outside the struggling Canadian manufacturer for future growth.

Michael Ryan has been pressing Airbus SE for work on projects other than the C Series jet that the European planemaker took over this year from Bombardier, which is restructuring its aerospace operations and contending with a deep share slide. The Belfast site will seek a role in the “wing of the future” project launched by Airbus and is open to supplying other companies, Ryan said.

The factory is the world’s most advanced manufacturer of composite wings, with capabilities outstripping those of Airbus and Boeing Co., Ryan said. While the plant is part of an aerostructures arm that Bombardier says it wants to keep, “nothing is out of the question” as the company sells its turboprop business and explores options for its regional-jet operations, he said.

“With what Bombardier has said about turboprops, regional jets and the C Series deal, clearly anything is possible,” Ryan, who is the former head and current chief operating officer of the aerostructures unit, said in an interview in London. “I’m not saying anything is in or out but there are lots of options to be considered.”

‘Core Part’

Ryan said the aerostructures unit’s strong market position, products and backlog still make it attractive to Montreal-based Bombardier and should remain a focus for capital allocation within the company. A company spokesman, Simon Letendre, echoed that view.

“Aerostructures is a division that we want to continue to develop in the future, and Belfast is most definitely a core part of our business,” Letendre said by telephone.

Bombardier is scheduled to hold an investor day in New York on Dec. 6. The shares have been gyrating in the stock market since the company revealed a weakened forecast for free cash flow on Nov. 8, a setback for Chief Executive Officer Alain Bellemare’s turnaround plan. Bombardier’s widely traded B shares are currently about 30 percent below their level before the outlook was disclosed.

The Belfast plant would be capable of functioning as an outside supplier to Bombardier’s business-jets division, Ryan said. The company is keeping its private-plane lineup while selling its turboprop arm to fellow Canadian producer Viking Air Ltd. Bombardier also opened the door to disposing of the regional-jets unit or finding a partner, while saying the immediate focus is on strengthening the unit’s backlog of orders.

Wing-Plant Visits

Ryan said he has had numerous meetings with Airbus executives since the C Series transaction took effect in July, and spent two days at the aerospace giant’s Toulouse, France, headquarters this week. Airbus is the Belfast factory’s biggest customer.

While discussions have focused on a Bombardier commitment to reduce the cost of wing production for the C Series, now known as the A220, Ryan said his plant is seeking more work from Airbus, which it also supplies with engine casings for the larger A320 model.

There have also been reciprocal visits between the Northern Ireland factory and Airbus’s wing-manufacturing facilities in Broughton, Wales, and Filton, England, Ryan said. Those contacts aren’t related to the A220 as wings for that plane are shipped to Canada for assembly, with no Airbus sites involved.

Ryan said Airbus might not be keen to consolidate aerostructures assets itself, since it already has two units in that market that rank fourth and fifth in the world, with the Bombardier business sixth. The biggest players are U.S.-based Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc. and Triumph Group Inc., plus Britain’s GKN, acquired this year by Melrose Industries Plc in a $10 billion hostile takeover.

Next Platform

Ryan said 490 job cuts to Belfast’s workforce of 3,800 announced on Nov. 21 were proposed by management locally and are reflective of a need to safeguard the site’s future by making it more competitive than rivals.

“We want to protect the next product-development platform, whether it’s Bombardier, Airbus, even Boeing or the Chinese,” he said.

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