Spirit AeroSystems’ Wichita employees returned to work en masse today to restart production following successful efforts to restore power and clean debris left by a tornado that tore through the company's 45-building campus on April 14. Spirit said it intends to work on “quickly ramping back up to full-rate production” now that its workers have returned. Spirit crews worked “around the clock” since the tornado hit to assess damage, build and work recovery plans, clear debris and restore basic services to the site.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect or pretty,” said Spirit AeroSystems president and CEO Jeff Turner. “It has to be safe and operational, and allow us to produce quality products on a regular drumbeat to meet our customer needs.”
The tornado, which also damaged plants belonging to Boeing Defense, Space & Security and Hawker Beechcraft, devastated parts of at least three of the buildings that occupy Spirit’s sprawling Wichita campus.
“It could have been much worse,” said a Spirit spokesman, who noted that the 213 people working the third shift evacuated the area before the tornado hit and that no one sustained injuries. “We had plenty of warning, and that’s key…Basically we drill for this all the time and they kept safe.”
However, all of Spirit’s programs will feel an effect, said the spokesman, at least until workers restore full electrical power, gas and water supply to the site.
A major supplier to Boeing, Spirit’s Wichita plant builds virtually the entire fuselage for the 737 and the nose section and pylons for the 787. Those and all of the programs the Wichita facility supplies will experience some supply-chain interruption due to the closure.
Now running at a rate of 35 airplanes a month, the Boeing 737 potentially stands to experience the most severe disruption of all of Spirit’s programs due purely to the volume of work in question. Spirit builds, on average, more than one 737 fuselage per day; an extended interruption to its production could potentially hamper the timing of Boeing’s planned fall rate break to 38 airplanes a month. Spirit, however, remains confident the effect on Boeing will prove minimal. “In terms of magnitude, the 737 is our biggest production [project] out of the Wichita plant,” said the spokesman. “The fuselage is the largest piece of that. We obviously want to get that started as soon as possible.”
Although Spirit also holds the contract to build the Airbus A350XWB's center fuselage section and front wing spar, it manufactures and assembles those parts at sites in Kinston, North Carolina; St. Nazaire, France; and Prestwick, Scotland. The only Airbus work performed in Wichita involves engineering and supply-chain support personnel, suggesting minimal, if any, effect on A350 production.