Today, Bombardier, a Canadian aircraft manufacturer, announced that it is selling its Belfast plant.
Bombardier employs approximately 3,600 workers in Northern Ireland, thus it is considered as one of the largest private sector employers in the region.
The firm said that it would also pursue the sale of its business that is based in Morocco.
In a statement, the company said that the said moves come as a result of the plan of Bombardier to consolidate “all aerospace assets into a single, streamlined, and fully integrated business.”
It added: “As the Company moves to optimize its global manufacturing footprint, Bombardier will pursue the divestiture of the Belfast and Morocco aerostructures businesses. These are great businesses with tremendous capabilities.”
The aerospace division of the company will now be located in Montreal, Mexico, and a newly acquired base located in Texas.
The Belfast facility was opened in 2013. It primarily produces wings for the Airbus A220 aircraft. In the largest-ever inward investment of Northern Ireland, Bombardier spent approximately £520 million on the plant.
The other sites of Bombardier in Northern Ireland — in Newtownards, Dunmurry, and Newtownabbey— will also be affected.
The presence of Bombardier in Northern Ireland dates back to 1989 when it acquired Short Brothers.
Short Brothers is the first firm in the world to make production aircraft. It relocated its headquarters from Kent to Belfast in 1948.
Two days ago, the firm said that it had suspended a compulsory redundancy process, a decision that is welcomed by unions.
Last November, Bombardier said that it wanted to cut up to 500 jobs from its operations in Northern Ireland as part of its global restructuring.
In a separate statement that was released today, the firm said that while there were “no new workforce announcements as a result of this decision,” it would “continue to drive ongoing transformation initiatives” in order to make the Northern Ireland unit more attractive to possible buyers.
A spokesperson for Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, said that it was “disappointing that the Belfast plant is no longer part of Bombardier’s future plans.”
He added: “This will be unsettling for the workers and their families. However, the company has a healthy order book and is not expecting further job losses.”
In a statement, Unite, a labour union, expressed hopes that any prospective new owner would commit to local production in Northern Ireland and invest in the operations in the region.
The regional secretary of the union, Jackie Pollock, said: “Unite will be seeking assurances from Bombardier and the government around this process. It doesn’t matter whose name is above the gate — what matters is that we safeguard jobs and skills in this critical industry.”