Spirit AeroSystems could resume shipments later this weekBy Molly McMillin and Jerry Siebenmark
The Wichita Eagle
After a Saturday night tornado tore through its complex, shutting down operations and heavily damaging buildings, Spirit AeroSystems said Monday it could begin making some shipments later this week.
But officials don’t know yet when the company will be back to full production.
Almost every building at the plant in south Wichita sustained some damage from Saturday’s tornado, some worse than others.
The good news: Spirit’s production facilities are in relatively good shape and its large machinery and equipment are intact, officials said. No production facilities were ruined.
“Our confidence is gaining, really, hour by hour,” Spirit CEO Jeff Turner said in a briefing Monday.
Operations will be suspended for a third day today, and employees are to stay home unless called directly and told to come in. Spirit employees can call 316-523-6405 for the latest information about returning to work.
Initial assessments indicate that the damage is limited to the infrastructure, including buildings and utilities. Spirit does not yet have an estimate of the damage.
Spirit is asking suppliers to keep making products, but to hold off on delivery.
“We’re going to be back up and running, and we’ll be catching up,” Turner said. “And when we do, we don’t want someone to second-guess us and then end up with a shortage.”
The company is working closely with customers to minimize any delays in delivery, he said.
More will be known in the next two days as assessments continue, officials said.
Spirit makes parts of every Boeing airplane, including the entire fuselage, pylons, struts and thrust reversers for the popular 737. Boeing production is at record levels on the single-aisle jetliner. Spirit also does work for a variety of other customers.
The tornado will have some effect on Spirit’s second-quarter results, said Cai von Rumohr, an aviation analyst with Cowen and Co. But “preliminary review suggests it’s more likely to be akin to a short-lived labor strike rather than a long-lasting disruption.”
The site has been broken into three major zones and nine subzones. Teams – made up of employees from facilities, procurement, production and other areas – are working on a plan to resume production.
“We have a number of areas that are really production-worthy once we get the facilities back up,” Turner said. “We have several areas that are going to take a little bit longer to get back up.
“I have heard anecdotally several of our production guys say, ‘Hey, I could start up production this afternoon if I had power and gas and chilled water and some of the other things that we need.’ ”
Workers will be returning on a rolling basis as power returns and production is phased in, Turner said.
“We’ve got to take each area, and make sure, first of all, it’s safe for people to come back, (and) they have all the utilities they need, they’ve got a roof over their head, and they’ve got a supply of parts from the incoming area,” Turner said.
Some employees in shipping may be back to work by the end of the week, Turner said.
How workers will be paid while operations are suspended is not yet known. But employees with vacation or earned time off can use it while they’re off work.
One program that managed better than most is the 787 program, Turner said. The composite fuselage facility fared well and the company’s South hangar, where 787 work is also performed, was not damaged.
“Maybe God knew it was its turn to have a good break,” Turner joked, referring to the multiple delays the 787 program has sustained over the years.
A lot of progress has been made cleaning up the site since the tornado hit late Saturday, said David Coleal, Spirit senior vice president for the fuselage segment. Roads and corridors between buildings have been cleared, and structures are being secured.
The company is assessing its inventory from raw materials to completed fuselages, Coleal said.
Plant 2, where the 737 fuselage is built, has some roof damage and insulation is hanging in some areas.
The question is “how do you run production with big pieces of the roof missing?” Coleal said. The company is addressing that by figuring out a way to get some temporary repairs done to allow operations to resume.
Boeing officials said Monday that they were still assessing damage to the company’s facilities in Wichita.
Boeing spokeswoman Yvonne Johnson-Jones said there were “a number of buildings that sustained damage,” including some offices that received minor damage.
“Our focus has been more about restoration of (utility) services so we can get employees back to work,” she said.
Jones said she wasn’t aware of any aircraft that were damaged at the site.
She doesn’t think that the damage in Wichita would accelerate Boeing’s plans to wind down its Wichita operations.
“As we continue to assess what damage has been done … we feel good about saying that’s not going to change anything,” she said.
Boeing will continue to suspend operations in Wichita through today. But employees are expected to report to work on Wednesday at their normal start times.
Jones said it is Boeing’s policy to continue to pay employees when it suspends operations.
Across the airfield, at McConnell Air Force Base, 2nd Lt. Jessica Brown said crews were conducting a damage assessment there, and she didn’t yet know what the cost of the damage would be. Officials said damage was minor and affected mostly trees, fences and buildings.
The only disruption to operations occurred when McConnell sent 16 air refueling tankers to Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. Those aircraft returned to McConnell on Sunday, Brown said.
Officials at the Kansas Air National Guard’s 184th Intelligence Wing said their facilities received some damage, mainly to the building that houses civil engineering squadrons. The damage to that building was mostly to the roof, said Maj. Jesse Sojka. He estimated the damage at $500,000.
On the city’s east side at Hawker Beechcraft, workers were making temporary repairs to the roof of the company’s Plant IV building on Monday, spokeswoman Sarah Estes said. Those repairs will be completed by the end of the week she said.
She said the plant’s operations were not affected by the tornado, nor were any other buildings on its campus at Central and Webb.
Estes said she did not have a damage estimate.Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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