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Harrison County

With Bombardier’s commercial aircraft service center in Bridgeport employing hundreds, West Virginia politicians and airport officials have unsurprisingly spoken out about a trade dispute that could end in major tariffs imposed on the Canadian company.

Boeing, the Chicago-based aircraft manufacturing company, argues Bombardier benefited unfairly from Canadian subsidies that allowed it to sell its C Series jets to Delta at a price below market value.

The U.S. Department of Commerce agreed with Boeing, recommending a 300 percent tariff on C Series jets in a decision announced last week. If the decision holds, it would more than triple the cost of C Series jets sold in the U.S., Reuters reported, meaning buying the jets would be a lot less appealing for air carriers.

Bombardier has slammed the proposed tariff as “divorced from reality” regarding industry business practices.

The U.S. International Trade Commission has to side with that recommendation for the tariff to take effect. It’s expected to make a ruling early next year.

Meanwhile, Bombardier’s West Virginia Air Center is plugging away in Harrison County with a workforce of more than 400 strong. Located at the North Central West Virginia Airport, the center repairs Bombardier aircraft used by commercial airlines.

In October, Bombardier said it would close an aircraft maintenance facility in Georgia by the end of the year, laying off 89 employees and transferring that work to the Bridgeport center. That came less than a year after the company announced it would double the size of the Bridgeport center and create 150 more jobs as a result.

Prior to the expansion announcement, the Gazette-Mail reported the center overhauled about 20 company aircraft a month.

“They’ve been a big part of our success and employ a lot of people,” airport director Rick Rock said of Bombardier. “So as far as our airport and the state of West Virginia is concerned, we really appreciate having them here.”

Rock said if there was a decrease in Bombardier aircraft in the U.S. due to a harsh tariff, it would most likely affect the air center and its operations.

“Obviously, if the aircraft they’re selling isn’t marketable because of those tariffs, then there’s certainly going to be a diminished need for repairing aircraft here,” he said.

Ron Watson, chair of the Benedum Airport Authority, which owns the airport, said he’s waiting on a final decision before trying to determine how exactly the air center would be affected. But he added that anything detrimental to Bombardier would be detrimental to the local economy.

The looming decision has not gone unnoticed by West Virginia members of Congress. U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., joined U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and three others in a letter dated Aug. 17 asking federal government officials to carefully consider the decision due to “the potential for unintended economic consequences presented by this case.”

“We support enforcement of U.S. trade laws to counteract unfair or unlawful activities by foreign interests, but ask that you consider closely the merits of this case along with the broader impacts on U.S. jobs and economic benefits in our communities,” the letter says.

Gov. Jim Justice sent a letter addressing similar points to those same officials one week later, saying Bombardier’s West Virginia Air Center “anchors an aerospace cluster in North-Central West Virginia, and is a major factor in the region’s economic growth and vitality.”

Reach Max Garland at max.garland@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.