Belfast aerospace engineers awarded £50,000 for eco-friendly wing

15 Jul 2019

An Airbus plane. Image: © dade72/

This news comes two months after Bombardier announced plans to sell off its operations in Belfast.

This year’s 2019 MacRobert Award for UK engineering innovation was awarded to Belfast’s Bombardier team by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Belfast-based team developed an eco-friendly jet wing, said to be the first commercial wing of its type, for the Airbus A220 plane.

First used in 2013, it is a resin-infused advanced composite wing, which was developed by around 1,000 of Bombardier’s 3,500 employees in Belfast. It took a £520m investment to develop this wing manufacturing technique, which is said to be the largest single inward investment ever made in Northern Ireland.

According to BBC, the wing “minimises the aircraft’s environmental impact by reducing both weight and fuel burn in flight, and waste during manufacture”. This composite wing is 10pc lighter than a conventional metal wing.

The news comes after Bombardier announced in May that it planned to sell off operations in both its Belfast and Morocco factories to focus on its Canadian plants. It has been a difficult few years for Bombardier employees in Northern Ireland, with more than 1,000 redundancies handed out in 2016.

Upon presenting the award to the Belfast team, Dr Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award judging panel, said: “Bombardier’s composite wing reflects how excellence in aeronautical engineering benefits both society and the environment. At a time of uncertainty for Belfast’s engineering community, we hope this award helps them achieve the worldwide recognition they deserve.”

As well as receiving a prize of £50,000, the company was also awarded a gold medal.

Michael Ryan, a representative of aerostructures at Bombardier, said: “Bombardier Belfast is thrilled to win the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2019 MacRobert Award. It’s a fantastic recognition of our highly skilled workforce, who have created a unique, cutting-edge technology to produce composite wings in Belfast which fly on commercial aircraft around the world.

“We’ve been developing our advanced composite expertise in Belfast for half a century and it’s an immense honour to receive the gold medal in the MacRobert Award’s 50th year.”

Amid the news that Bombardier’s Belfast factory is for sale, Airbus chief Guillaume Faury hinted that the company could buy Bombardier’s operations in the city. Airbus isn’t the only company expressing an interest either, as Spanish aircraft parts-maker Aernnova is also a potential buyer.

Economist John Simpson speculated that Bombardier’s latest award will increase the appeal of Bombardier Belfast to prospective buyers.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic