Boeing supplier ‘gaining confidence’ after tornadoes

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

The Boeing Co. supplier Spirit AeroSystems said Monday it expects to ship jet assemblies later this week as the company’s Kansas site recovers from damage sustained from tornadoes over the weekend.

“We are gaining confidence hour by hour,” Spirit CEO Jeff Turner said Monday over the company’s Twitter feed.

On Sunday, Spirit said its Wichita facility received “significant” damage by the destructive storm as it swept across the Midwest Saturday evening. The company has suspended operations in Wichita through Tuesday.

Spirit plays a key role on Boeing jets, supplying major sections on all Boeing aircraft programs. A major slowdown of production at Spirit in turn would hold up Boeing aircraft assembly in the Puget Sound region.

But Spirit’s Turner said the company could resume shipments soon. No major Wichita production areas were ruined, but some contain storm debris, he said. Production tools and products in process also look fine, Turner said.

Photos uploaded to Spirit’s Flickr stream show dozens of 737 fuselage sections that look untouched by the storm. The exterior of Spirit buildings in the photos, however, show varying signs of destruction — missing panels, collapsed outer walls.

Spirit is telling its own suppliers to continue building products at the regular pace but to hold shipments.

“We are also working closely with our customers to minimize the expected delivery impacts,” Turner said in a statement.

Boeing has been speeding up aircraft production to meet increased customer demand. Boeing workers in Renton already are building more than one 737 daily with the goal of moving up to 42 jets monthly by 2014. The company also plans to rapidly up completion rates on its 787, assembled in Everett and North Charleston, S.C. Boeing intends to reach a pace of 10 787s monthly by the end of 2013.

Boeing spokesman Larry Wilson noted that the jet maker has its normal “cushion” of parts on hand to continue aircraft assembly in the near-term. But it is still too early to determine how the damage at Spirit will disrupt aircraft production overall at Boeing.

“We’re working closely with Spirit to assess the situation,” Wilson said.

Boeing’s defense site in Wichita also was damaged in the storm. Initially the Boeing site was closed through Monday.

The company posted a message on its website Monday informing employees that the Wichita facility would remain closed Tuesday. Workers are expected to report for normal shift hours Wednesday.

Boeing announced in January that it would close the Wichita facility in 2013 in response to military budget cuts.

Wall Street was nonplussed by the uncertainty the storm created for Boeing and Spirit. Boeing shares closed at $72.68, down 24 cents for the day. Spirit’s stock finished Monday with a drop of 36 cents at $24.05.