2021 con­fer­ence to bring £4m boost to Belfast

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY MAR­GARET CAN­NING

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

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