Hawker Beechcraft plans to furlough employees who work on the final assembly line of the company’s Premier 1A and Hawker 4000 business jets because of a shortage of composite material.
The furloughs, which will be inside Plant IV, will be held on a rolling basis over the next 30 to 60 days, spokeswoman Nicole Alexander said Monday. The length of the furloughs will range from 30 to 45 days.
Employees working on the planes in Plant 3, where Viper machines wind the composite barrels, have already been on furlough because of the material shortages.
“We have to synchronize our production accordingly,” Alexander said.
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Increases in production of commercial and military programs have placed higher demand on composite material suppliers, Alexander said.
Bombardier Learjet’s new Learjet 85 program incorporates a composite fuselage. But the program has not been affected, a company spokeswoman said.
“We don’t know what the cause is of the Hawker Beechcraft issue. However, we’re not affected by that,” said Danielle Beaudreau, a Bombardier spokeswoman.
The material used in the Learjet 85 is different than that used on the Hawker Beechcraft products, she said.
Spirit AeroSystems also has not experienced any shortages, said Spirit spokesman Ken Evans. To her knowledge, neither has Cessna Aircraft, company spokeswoman Shanda Carney said.
The shortage to Hawker Beechcraft is temporary, said Yeow Ng, associate director for the National Center for Advanced Materials Performance at Wichita State University.
“It happens to our industry once in a while,” Ng said. “It’s always short term.”
The supplier, Cytec Engineered Materials, is operating at full capacity and working to increase production, Ng said. The problem is limited to this supplier, he said.
“Cytec is working hard to meet customer needs,” Ng said. “They have added equipment. They’re looking for people.”
A Cytec representative did not return calls for comment Monday.
It’s difficult for an aircraft manufacturer to change composite suppliers on a program if it experiences material shortages.
“It’s not that easy to switch materials once the material is qualified for an aircraft (by the Federal Aviation Administration,)” Ng said. “If they want to change to a new material, the FAA might ask them to redo the certification. We operate in a highly regulated industry.”
Usually, manufacturers enter long-term agreements with composite material suppliers. That’s why marketing efforts by the suppliers take place early in the program.
“They know the time to get into a program is at the beginning,” Ng said. “Once they’re selected, once they use the materials … to build certification articles, the aircraft companies are locked in. It would be very difficult to switch materials.”