MONTRÉAL – Number of words: 632 – Reading time: 3 minutes – Earlier this week, we learned — thanks to articles from Bloomberg and Reuters — that British Prime Minister Theresa May asked US President Donald Trump to intervene in a court dispute between Chicago-based aerospace and defense giant Boeing and Montréal-based Bombardier. The dispute is over the matter of state aid.
The UK jumped into the fray on September 5th, when Prime Minister May called President Trump and requested his intervention. May took this step in an effort to protect jobs at a Bombardier Aerospace plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which employs 4200 people and produces the composite wings for Bombardier’s C Series. In 2005, the UK became one of the three major providers of development aid for the C Series, the others being the government of Québec and the Canadian federal government.
“Our priority is to encourage Boeing to drop its case and seek a negotiated settlement with Bombardier,” the UK Department for Business said in an e-mailed statement. “This is a commercial matter, but the UK government is working tirelessly to safeguard Bombardier’s operations and its highly skilled workers in Belfast.”
But the British Prime Minister should think twice, and be very cautious, before engaging further in the dispute between Boeing and Bombardier.
On the one hand, Bombardier employs 4200 people in its Belfast-based Shorts Aircraft operation.
On the other, every single UK aerospace and defense company supplies systems, sub-systems, assemblies, parts, and service to nearly every US-designed and built aerospace and defense platform. These include the Rolls-Royce engines that power roughly half of the 1200 Boeing 787s ordered so far, the Martin-Baker ejection seats in every single F-35 Lightning II, and Cobham refueling systems on the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus, as well as Marshall Aerospace auxiliary fuel tanks, Martin-Baker crew seats and General Electric weapon pylons on the Boeing P-8A Poseidon.
On the F-35 alone, BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Martin-Baker, Selex, Cobham, Ultra Electronics, UTC Actuation Systems, and Rolls-Royce are just a few of the 500-plus UK-based suppliers for the program. According to Lockheed Martin, this translates into more than 24 000 jobs in the UK.
BAE Systems is responsible for 15% of the work on each F-35 aircraft. This includes every aft fuselage, as well as other mission critical systems for the program. This is quite significant considering that the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy have ordered fewer than 140 F-35s — a mere 3-4% of this combat aircraft’s projected production run.
On those Boeing 787 Dreamliners fitted with Rolls-Royce engines, UK content reaches 25% by value. Twelve 787s are being built every month — a figure soon to rise to 14 — at a list price of between US$ 229 and 312 million. A total of 12,700 jobs in the UK supply chain are supported by Boeing’s activities, in addition to the nearly 2000 people employed directly by Boeing in the country.
Among the top 100 US Department of Defense suppliers in 2016, BAE Systems ranked 9th with sales of US$5,2 billion, and Rolls-Royce 77th with US$742 million.
On top of that, the United Kingdom remains the largest foreign investor in the United States, at US$449 billion.
A key factor behind Prime Minister May’s recent phone call to President Trump is one that is more self-serving than the desire to preserve Bombardier Belfast jobs.
Following a disastrous June general election, Theresa May was obliged to form a coalition government with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). May’s government currently relies on votes from the DUP not only to pass legislation through the House of Commons but, above all, to stay in power. It was the DUP which requested an official plea to Trump to preserve jobs in Belfast. Theresa May could scarcely refuse.
Diplômé universitaire en histoire, journalisme et relations publiques, en 1993, Philippe Cauchi amorce une carrière de journalisme, analyste et consultant en aérospatiale. En 2013, il fonde avec Daniel Bordeleau, le site d’information aérospatial Info Aéro Québec.