Bombardier’s Belfast factory sold to Spirit in £850m deal

The US aerospace manufacturer Spirit Aerosystems has bought the historic Short Brothers factory from Bombardier in a $1.1bn (£850m) deal that ends months of uncertainty over the jobs of 3,500 highly skilled workers in Northern Ireland.

Bombardier put Short Brothers up for sale in May after a difficult period for the plant, which makes wings for Airbus’s A220 aircraft and supplies parts for Airbus’s A320neo and Bombardier business and regional jets.

Spirit, which is based in Wichita, Kansas, will pay Bombardier $500m in cash, and will take on $300m in pension liabilities and $290m in government grant repayment obligations.

A spokeswoman for Bombardier said there were no workforce adjustments included in the deal. About 4,000 employees will transfer to Spirit, including smaller operations in the US and Morocco. Spirit said it expected to make $60m from cutting costs and other cooperation benefits.

Short Brothers, which traces its history back to 1908, is a key provider of well-paid jobs in Belfast and nearby towns, but its recent struggles resulted in several rounds of redundancies, including 500 jobs in November 2018.

The company reported a loss of $33.8m in 2017 but recovered to make an operating profit of $4.9m in 2018. Spirit said it expected adjusted earnings of $100m from Short Brothers in 2019.

Spirit, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of aerospace structures, was spun out of Boeing in 2005 and it is trying to reduce its reliance on business from the company. Airbus bosses had considered buying the factory to secure the supply of parts.

Spirit’s chief executive, Tom Gentile, said: “Belfast has developed an impressive position in business jet fuselage production, in addition to the world-acclaimed fully integrated A220 composite wing. This acquisition is in line with our growth strategy of increasing Airbus content, developing low-cost country footprint, and growing our aftermarket business.”

The Unite and GMB unions said they were seeking details of Spirit’s plans for the future of the workforce. Steve Turner, Unite’s assistant general secretary, said: “It is a sale that offers hope for a positive future for Bombardier workers in Northern Ireland and their colleagues in the supply chain.”

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