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May 17, 2024

Boeing Supplier Spirit AeroSystems to Lay Off 450 Workers Amid 737 Production Slowdown

Spirit AeroSystems, a pivotal Boeing supplier responsible for producing fuselages for the 737 Max airplanes, has announced plans to lay off approximately 450 employees. This move comes in response to a significant slowdown in production following an incident in January when a panel detached from an Alaska Airlines-operated 737 Max mid-flight.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for Spirit AeroSystems confirmed that the layoffs will affect the workforce at its Wichita, Kansas, plant, which currently employs just over 13,000 individuals. Spirit AeroSystems holds a critical role in Boeing’s supply chain, not only manufacturing the fuselages but also installing components such as the door plug that malfunctioned. However, it remains unclear whether Spirit or Boeing employees were responsible for the final installation of the panel that came loose.

“The recent slowdown in the delivery rate on commercial programs compels a reduction to our workforce in Wichita,” stated Joe Buccino, a spokesperson for Spirit AeroSystems. This development underscores the broader challenges facing the aerospace sector, particularly for suppliers closely tied to Boeing’s commercial aircraft programs.

This workforce reduction is taking place amid broader strategic discussions between Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems. Earlier this spring, Boeing confirmed ongoing negotiations to potentially reacquire Spirit AeroSystems. Spirit was originally a part of Boeing before being spun off, and a reacquisition would mark a significant shift in Boeing’s long-standing strategy of outsourcing key manufacturing tasks. This approach has faced criticism, especially following production and delivery disruptions of Boeing’s popular jetliners, including the 737 and 787 models, caused by issues at Spirit.

The impending layoffs have drawn concern from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, which represents many of the affected employees. The union has pledged to support its members during this challenging period.

“Together, we will continue to work to protect the strength of the aerospace industry in Wichita and ensure our members receive the assistance and resources they need to overcome this challenge and emerge stronger,” the union said in a statement. The union’s commitment highlights the ongoing efforts to mitigate the impact on the local workforce and maintain the resilience of Wichita’s aerospace industry.

The layoffs at Spirit AeroSystems are indicative of broader pressures within the aerospace manufacturing sector, which has been grappling with supply chain disruptions, fluctuating demand, and stringent regulatory scrutiny. As Boeing navigates these challenges, its relationship with key suppliers like Spirit AeroSystems remains a focal point, especially as the company considers strategies to streamline and stabilize its production processes.

While the exact implications of Boeing potentially reabsorbing Spirit AeroSystems are yet to be fully understood, such a move could have significant ramifications for both companies. For Boeing, bringing Spirit back in-house could mean more direct control over critical components of its aircraft production. For Spirit AeroSystems, the shift could provide more stability but also require adaptation to a new operational structure.

As the aerospace industry continues to evolve, the outcomes of these layoffs and potential corporate restructurings will be closely watched. The situation serves as a reminder of the intricate dependencies within the aerospace supply chain and the far-reaching impacts of production changes on workers and local economies.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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