2021 conference to bring £4m boost to Belfast
BELFAST is to receive a £4m economic boost after it was selected as the location for a conference on hi-tech materials used in manufacturing, including Bombardier’s C Series jet.
The city will play host to 2,000 experts on composites from around the world after winning a bid to hold the International Conference on Composite Materials (ICCM) in 2021.
Knowledge of composites has become key to Northern Ireland’s success in engineering — most notably in the creation of advanced composites used for the wings of the C Series jet, which are made in Belfast. But the success of the jet is now under threat thanks to a US trade dispute.
The city’s win was announced in X’ian in China, after a pitch led by Professor Brian Falzon, Queen’s University’s head of the school of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Prof Falzon said: “ICCM is the Olympics of conferences in composites research, bringing together a global community of experts in this field, which continues to have huge research and exploitation potential.
“Winning this conference was the result of a tremendous team effort from Queen’s University, the Advanced Composites Research Group, Visit Belfast, the Belfast Waterfront and Conference Partners International, with everyone coming together to show that Belfast can successfully host this conference.
“Hosting ICCM will help establish Belfast as a global player and centre of excellence for composites research, and I am looking forward to welcoming colleagues from all over the world to Belfast in 2021.” Visit Belfast chief executive Gerry Lennon said around 74 conferences were held in Belfast last year, adding around £32.5m to the economy.
BOMBARDIER’S thousands of Belfast workers remain concerned after a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire as they await another major decision on a make-or-break US deal for its C Series jets.
Belfast boss Michael Ryan met Mr Brokenshire, along with Unite trade union members, to discuss the concerns of the workforce.
Last week’s US government decision could scupper a multi-billion pound deal with Delta for Bombardier’s narrow-bodied C Series jets, and was described as “unsettling for companies and their employees across the aerospace sector in Northern Ireland”.
There are fears that the US commerce department’s proposed tariff of almost 220% on Bombardier’s C Series aircraft could threaten jobs here. That follows a legal challenge by US rival Boeing, which has now erupted into a transatlantic trade row involving the Prime Minister and US President Donald Trump.
Davy Thompson of Unite said the next big decision for Bombardier will be on Thursday, when it learns whether the US government believes Boeing’s claim over aircraft ‘dumping’ — selling the planes at a cut-price or below cost.
He said the atmosphere among workers “is one of concern” and that Bombardier did not expect to be dealt such a hefty tariff of almost 220%. Paul Everitt, chief executive of aerospace group ADS, also told the Belfast Telegraph that “there is no doubt that any support Bombardier has received in the UK is fully compliant with World Trade Organisation rules”.
Meanwhile, yesterday Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn stepped up the pressure on Theresa May to intervene in the trade dispute.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, he urged her to join with Canadian premier Justin Trudeau in summoning the head of Boeing to an “urgent summit” to demand the US aerospace giant drops its claim against Bombardier.
Following a meeting in Belfast yesterday, Mr Brokenshire said “we will continue to work with the senior management at Bombardier, the trade unions and the workforce as well as with the Canadian and US Governments to find a resolution”.
“Bombardier jobs are absolutely vital to the Northern Ireland economy,” he added.
“The visit to meet Bombardier NI chief executive Michael Ryan provides assurance on the UK Government’s continuing commitment and efforts, to protect jobs and the livelihoods of so many people across Northern Ireland and discuss how we can continue to work together to resolve this very serious issue.”
Mr Everitt said the preliminary ruling was “... extremely disappointing, as well as unsettling for companies and their employees”.
Aerospace manufacturing has a long and proud history in Northern Ireland. Around 10,000 people here are directly employed in the industry and it is helping to generate £1.3bn a year for the local economy.
Government and industry have forged a successful partnership to help the sector double in size during the next 10 years, creating more high value, long-term jobs.
An aircraft that offers perhaps the greatest potential for the growth of aerospace in Northern Ireland is Bombardier’s C Series.
The revolutionary composite wing for this new entrant into the international market is manufactured at state of the art facilities in the company’s Belfast factory.
The CS100, with around 110 seats, and the larger CS300 have already found enthusiastic customers in Europe, Asia and North America.
Global orders for new aircraft are at close to record levels, with more than 13,400 currently on the books of manufacturers.
Demand is expected to remain high in the years ahead as the aviation market continues to grow. There is a real opportunity for the C Series to become a significant player and an order from Delta Airlines in the US for 125 C Series aircraft is the model’s largest yet.
This is what makes last week’s preliminary ruling by the US Department of Commerce to apply tariffs to the C Series in response to a case brought by Boeing extremely disappointing, as well as unsettling for companies and their employees across the aero- space sector in Northern Ireland.
The decision is not final and there is still a long way to go before the end of this process.
A final ruling by the US International Trade Commission is due to be made in February next year.
However, an amicable resolution before this stage is reached would be the best option for Bombardier, for the thousands who work in its Belfast factory, for 800 suppliers in the UK and Ireland, and for the global aerospace sector as a whole.
It has been heartening to hear political leaders in Northern Ireland, Canada and London make clear how seriously they take the threat posed to jobs and growth by this dispute, and show they will defend the interests of Bombardier workers in their engagement with Boeing and the US government.
We now need to see leaders on both sides of the Atlantic working together to find a solution and remove the threat to jobs and growth in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that any support Bombardier has received in the UK is fully compliant with World Trade Organisation ( WTO) rules, and Boeing has not brought a case through WTO procedures.
All major aircraft manufacturers around the world have received some form of support from governments to help manage the costs and risks associated with researching and designing new aircraft, whether in the UK, Europe, Brazil or the US.
Aerospace is a truly global industry, a low tariff sector built on openness to trade between its major manufacturing nations. To build a complete aircraft, extensive supply chains cross multiple borders as companies in different countries each contribute key components towards the final assembly.
Tariffs destroy trade and reduce the choices available to consumers, preventing them from seeing the benefits of innovation and productivity that are driven by healthy commercial competition.
In the UK aerospace industry we expect all those involved to work hard to reach a resolution as soon as possible and allow the C Series to continue its ascent — flying on wings made in Belfast.
Bombardier’s Airport Road factory in Belfast