Aircraft manufacturer Bombardier has announced that it plans to sell its wing production operations in Northern Ireland.
Operations are at four sites: Belfast, Newtownabbey, Dunmurry and Newtownards. In total, the plants employ about 3,600 people.
The Bombardier plants represent a large proportion of exports coming from Northern Ireland, together with a significant percentage of local research and development. Production involves a series of skilled processes, including composite forming.
The Canadian aircraft manufacturer bought the then state-owned firm in 1989. The plant has been producing wing assemblies for the C-Series aircraft, but under a recent partnership agreement with Airbus, the mid-range, twin-engine C-Series rebranded as the A220.
The sale follows a series of job cuts and cost-cutting initiatives. In November 2018, 500 employees were laid off.
Although the announcement included no mention of Brexit, in April, Bombardier was among the companies signing an open letter to United Kingdom Members of Parliament asking to take a no-deal Brexit off the table to protect jobs in Northern Ireland.
Sale of the plants could be slowed by the potential for operational cost increases related to the outcome of the Brexit process.
The sale of the plants in Northern Ireland comes as Bombardier is looking to consolidate its aerospace assets into an integrated business. The company recently bought a wing-making operation in the United States.
The Montreal-based company is reported to be also planning to sell off its aerostructures operation in Morocco.