Fears that Bombardier row could threaten jobs in Northern Ireland

Bombardier, in the Titanic Quarter
Bombardier, in the Titanic Quarter

Planemaker Bombardier’s battle to make the CSeries passenger jet a success could well take place in the legal arena as the Canadian firm fiercely rejected claims from US rival Boeing over alleged subsidies paid in Canada and the UK.

The latest twist in the CSeries saga came as it emerged Prime Minister Theresa May has requested the help of US president Donald Trump after Boeing filed a petition with the US International Trade Commission and the US Department of Commerce in April.

The petition alleges that massive subsidies from the Canadian government have allowed Bombardier to embark “on an aggressive campaign to dump its CSeries aircraft in the United States”.

The US manufacturer is refusing to back down in the dispute but has come under attack from US budget airlines who say the giant’s action is nothing more than an attempt to block fair competition.

At the heart of the issue is the fear that punitive action by the American authorities could potentially cripple the firm, threatening tens of thousands of jobs including 4,500 in Northern Ireland where around 1,000 are involved in producing the high tech wings for the CSeries.

The Department of Commerce is expected to announce a decision on September 25, but on Monday night Bombardier dismissed the complaint.

“Boeing’s petition is an unfounded assault on airlines, the travelling public and further innovation in aerospace,” a statement read.

“We are very confident the UK government understands what is at stake and will take the actions necessary to respond to this direct attack on its aerospace industry. And, we certainly encourage that support on behalf of our thousands of highly skilled employees in Northern Ireland and hundreds of suppliers across the UK.”

Insisting it will “let the process play out,” Boeing said “subsidised competition has hurt us now and will continue to hurt us for years to come.”

“We believe that global trade only works if everyone plays by the same rules of the road, and that’s a principle that ultimately creates the greatest value for Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and our aerospace industry,” the company added.

A UK government spokesman said: “This is a commercial matter but the UK government is working tirelessly to safeguard Bombardier’s operations and its highly skilled workers in Belfast.

“Ministers across government have engaged swiftly and extensively with Boeing, Bombardier, the US and Canadian governments.

“Our priority is to encourage Boeing to drop its case and seek a negotiated settlement with Bombardier.”

In his letter to the Trade Commission the CFO of US-owned Spirit Airlines, Edward Christie, said the petition was “an inappropriate way for Boeing to seek to block the Bombardier CSeries from entering the US market.”

“If Boeing’s petition prevails, Spirit will lose access to a competitive and innovative platform that could bring significant benefits to the American flying public,” he wrote.