Uncertainty for Belfast workers as Spirit Aerosystems enter acquisition talks with Airbus rival Boeing

Reports link Airbus to separate talks over potential acquisition of NI manufacturing operation

Composite wings being manufactured for Airbus on the factory floor of Spirit Aerosystems' Belfast plant. (Leo Murray Photographer)

The ownership structure of Spirit Aerosystems’ Belfast manufacturing operation could be changing again, creating new uncertainty for its huge workforce.

The Kansas-based company, which bought the former Shorts Brothers operation from Bombardier in 2019, has confirmed it is in discussions with Boeing about a potential acquisition.

Spirit Aero was formed in 2005 when Boeing sold off its Kansas division.

But a potential reintegration into the Boeing fold leaves a question mark over the Belfast business, which is a primary supplier to Boeing’s main rival, Airbus.

The Belfast operation, which employs around 3,400 people, makes wings and mid fuselage for the Airbus A220. It also supplies Bombardier.

According to a number of reports over the weekend, Airbus has explored the idea of taking over the Belfast plant.

Any potential deal with Airbus is unlikely in the short term.

Airbus already has major wing manufacturing operations in Filton, near Bristol and in Broughton, near Chester.

It is unclear whether Airbus is considering acquiring the entire Northern Ireland business, or if a future deal could see it broken up.

Airbus has declined to comment on speculation around potential mergers or acquisitions.

A composite wing being manufactured for Airbus on the factory floor of Spirit Aerosystems' Belfast plant.

The European plane maker has been contractual price negotiations with Spirit Aerosystems for some weeks.

A spokesperson for Spirit Aero confirmed those discussions with Airbus are continuing.

Last month, the president and chief executive of Spirit Aerosystems, Pat Shanahan, said the negotiations had been “productive”.

He said the efforts to find savings in the A220 operation will likely see a change in suppliers.

Accounts for the Belfast-based operation, which still reports as Short Brothers on Companies House, show it has not been profitable since 2016.

The latest report filed for the business show is registered a pre-tax loss of $227 million (£180m) for the year to December 31 2022.

It brought total pre-tax losses since 2019 to almost three quarters of a billion US dollars.

In a statement over the weekend confirming the active talk about a possible acquisition by Boeing, Spirit Aerosystems said: “No assurances can be given that a definitive agreement will be entered into, that any transaction will be consummated, or the timing, terms or conditions of any such transaction.

“The Spirit board of directors and management team are committed to enhancing shareholder value and regularly review the company’s opportunities to further this objective.

“Spirit does not intend to comment further on market speculation or disclose any developments unless and until it otherwise deems further disclosure is appropriate or required.”