Supplier to Boeing warns against breaking up of Northern Ireland facility

Spirit AeroSystems UK’s head has warned that the possible break-up of their Northern Ireland operations, in the event of sale, would be “extremely damaging” to the future of the company and the aerospace industry of the region.

After Boeing announced in March that it was in discussions to purchase the troubled US Aerospace supplier it spun-off nearly 20 years earlier, it is unclear what will happen to Spirit’s Belfast operations .

Sir Michael Ryan, chairman of Spirit’s UK subsidiary wrote to local stakeholders, “any dismantling would be extremely harmful to the long-term success of the Belfast business and, by extension, the regional aerospace industry.”

We firmly believe that maintaining the Northern Ireland operation as a single unit is the best option for any proposed acquisition,” Ryan said in the letter. A copy was seen.

Boeing faces pressure to move more production in-house following the mid-air explosion of a fuselage section on one of its planes. Spirit provides Boeing with fuselages for the 737 Max aircraft. Both manufacturers are undergoing a safety audit by America’s aviation regulator.

However, the talks have become more complicated as Spirit seeks out the work that it performs for Boeing’s European competitor Airbus. This includes Belfast, but also a site in Scotland, and the US.

Guillaume Faury (Airbus CEO) said that last month, the company is in the early stages of talks with Spirit regarding the work they do for the plane manufacturer.

Faury said, “We don’t want to procure our most important work packages from our main competitor and almost the only one.”

Spirit’s Belfast operation, which spans six sites, builds the mid-fuselage and wings for the Airbus A220 programme. They also produce fuselage sections, and other crucial components for a variety of business jets manufactured by Canada’s Bombardier.

These operations, which employ over 3,000 people, play a vital role in the region’s growing aerospace industry. Belfast’s facilities, part of the historic Short Brothers Factory, perform maintenance and repairs for other aviation clients.

People familiar with the situation say that the talks between Spirit and Airbus have progressed in the right directions. Analysts say that the European group is focused on securing jobs and ringfencing work for the A220 in Belfast.

In his letter, Ryan explained that, while it was possible to separate the physical buildings, the company’s ecosystem and structure were “integrally connected” and provided “economics of scale and skills, flexibility and technological synergy”.

He warned that Northern Ireland’s ability to compete globally would be compromised if operations were dismantled in order to “optimise for particular customers or buyers”. Comparatively, taking over the entire operation is a “much simpler and less complex exercise”, especially for an experienced strategic owner.

Union representatives shared his concerns. Alan Perry, senior organiser for the GMB, stated that “the main concern for GMB” is to ensure the Belfast sites are not broken up.

“Given that the site has a long history and employs nearly 3,000 people, any sale would have a huge impact on the local economy.”

Spirit in Belfast refused to comment on the correspondence but said that “as commercial negotiations continue, many options remain possible.”

A spokesperson from the Northern Ireland economy ministry stated: “The potential purchase of Spirit AeroSystems was a commercial conversation between two companies. The ongoing discussions are being reported to the economy minister. “It would be inappropriate to comment while these discussions are continuing.”

Airbus stated that it was “in the early stages of discussions” on various options, which included acquiring some of Spirit AeroSystems’ activities.

Bombardier stated that it “would not comment on Spirit’s activity” but also added “we expect to maintain our supply contracts at the highest quality and performance regardless of outcome”.