July 13, 2024

Airbus Acquires Spirit AeroSystems’ Belfast Operations

Airbus has finalized plans to acquire key operations of Spirit AeroSystems in Belfast, focusing on manufacturing components for its A220 aircraft amidst broader restructuring in the aerospace sector.


Photo Source: Skies Magazine

Airbus has announced its acquisition of a significant portion of Spirit AeroSystems’ operations in Belfast, specifically taking over the manufacturing of wings and fuselage for its A220 jet. This move comes amid broader changes within Spirit, with Boeing also involved in restructuring efforts.

Spirit AeroSystems, a major manufacturing employer in Northern Ireland with approximately 3,500 employees, faces uncertainty regarding its Prestwick plant following Boeing’s takeover agreement. Airbus will assume control of the Belfast operations related to the A220, while the future of other non-Airbus segments remains uncertain, including work on Bombardier business jets.

The deal has sparked concerns among trade unions and local stakeholders about potential job impacts and the integrity of Spirit’s operations in Belfast. Airbus aims to stabilize its supply chain through this acquisition, aligning with its plans to increase production rates for the A220 in the coming years.

The Ulster Unionist MLA, Steve Aiken, has voiced concerns about the partial acquisition, highlighting the uncertainty surrounding the non-Airbus segments of Spirit AeroSystems’ Belfast operations. Aiken has called on the economy minister to provide urgent clarity on the future of these sectors. The regional co-ordinator at Unite, George Brash, echoed these sentiments, emphasizing that the division of the workforce could have negative repercussions for both the employees and the local manufacturing sector. Unite estimates that around 40% of the Belfast staff are engaged in Airbus-related work, while the remaining 60% are involved in other projects, predominantly Bombardier business jets.

Photo Source: Composites World

Earlier this year, Sir Michael Ryan, the chair of Spirit in the UK, warned against dismantling the company’s integrated structure, arguing that the business’s ecosystem is closely linked and provides significant technological synergies and economies of scale. He stressed that any separation of Spirit’s operations could be detrimental to the long-term viability of the Belfast site and the wider Northern Ireland aerospace industry. This sentiment is shared by local stakeholders and trade unions, who fear that job losses and a fragmented workforce could undermine the region’s industrial base.

Spirit AeroSystems has been a cornerstone of Northern Ireland’s aerospace sector since acquiring Bombardier’s operations in 2019. The company’s commitment to investing in the Belfast factory and increasing the workforce for A220 production was seen as a positive step for the local economy. Airbus’s acquisition of these operations is expected to support its plans to boost A220 production by 50% in 2024, with further increases in 2025. However, the future of the non-Airbus projects and their associated workforce remains in question, as Spirit looks to sell these segments separately, raising concerns about the stability and continuity of these jobs.

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