Fokker fall threatens 1,000 jobs at Shorts

Air industry crisis: UK firm lays off 660 with more to come as Dutch auction fails to save historic aircraft maker from bankruptcy
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Business Editor

The collapse yesterday of Fokker, the Dutch aircraft manufacturer, put just over 1,000 jobs at risk at Shorts, the Belfast aerospace company.

The bankruptcy of Fokker led to the immediate lay off of 660 workers at Shorts employedbuilding wings for the failed company's aircraft. The future of several hundred other ancillary jobs is also threatened.

Shorts said it had already cut the number of jobs at risk from the 1,460 who were put on protective redundancy notice in January, when a Dutch government backed attempt to save Fokker began.

Shorts added that it hoped to reduce the number of redundancies among its workforce of 6,800 to below 1,000 by redeployment and training schemes until new orders came in.

It is feared hundreds of jobs in supply companies could be hit, while City sources said the bankruptcy could cost Rolls-Royce, which makes engines for Fokker, up to pounds 30m. Rolls said it was too early to say whether jobs would be lost.

Shorts has been told that some Fokker 100/700 aircraft are to be completed over the next three months, which will provide some work.

A spokesman for Shorts, which is owned by Bombardier, a Canadian engineering and aerospace group, said: "We are now vigorously exploring a range of measures to limit the effect of Fokker's bankruptcy. In addition we are continuing to pursue new business opportunities which include several UK government defence programmes for which we are currently bidding."

Shorts has insisted throughout the Fokker crisis that its future is safe because Bombardier has injected pounds 200m since 1989 to pay for diversification and new technology.

The failure of two Far Eastern buyers to come up with offers to buy Fokker finally killed off the company after desperate late night negotiations on Thursday with Samsung of South Korea. "This means the end of 77 years of aircraft history in the Netherlands," said Ben van Schaik, Fokker's chairman.

The company was put in the hands of administrators in January when its controlling shareholder, Daimler-Benz of Germany, withdrew support because of mounting losses. But Fokker was given Dutch government bridging finance to keep it alive as talks with potential buyers continued.

At Fokker, more than 5,600 workers involved in aircraft manufacture will be dismissed, the largest single redundancy in Dutch history. But 960 will be offered jobs at the remaining divisions that escaped collapse. A number of viable businesses employing 2,500 staff in aircraft maintenance, electronics systems and special products will be lumped into a company called Fokker Aviation. However, the rump company will still need new backing, Fokker said.

Samsung Aerospace said: "We were interested in Fokker, as a strategic tie-up . . . But we were not able to make the final offer due to time constraints."

Hans Wijers, Dutch economics minister, said of the talks: "The only thing we got was a letter which contained less commitment than earlier signals." A second suitor, China Aviation Industries, had earlier decided against an offer.

Since it was founded in 1919, Fokker has built more than 125 different types of aircraft.