April 15, 2012

Spirit AeroSystems, Boeing close temporarily to assess tornado damages

Two of Wichita’s biggest aviation firms have been closed for at least a day by damage from Saturday night’s storm, a disruption that could slow one of the country’s biggest jet programs.

Two of Wichita’s biggest aviation firms have been closed for at least a day by damage from Saturday night’s storm, a disruption that could slow one of the country’s biggest jet programs.

And one of the city’s biggest convenience store chains plans to reopen soon in south Wichita after the storm damaged two stores, forcing their closure on Sunday.

All operations have been suspended at Spirit AeroSystems and neighboring Boeing, located at K-15 and MacArthur, while the two companies assess significant damage from Saturday’s storm.

Spirit will be closed at least through Tuesday, and spokeswoman Debbie Gann is asking employees not to come to work unless contacted.

The work disruption at Spirit could have an impact on Boeing’s 737 program if Spirit’s fuselage construction for the plane is interrupted, said aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia.

The hardest hit appears to be Spirit, where Gann said Sunday that damage was “substantial” in some buildings, including the firm’s manufacturing process building that’s home to several programs. Significant roof and siding damage was visible Sunday from K-15.

“Our priority is to get in and do a damage assessment,” Gann said. She declined to specify which buildings are most damaged but said structural engineers are reviewing each before employees return.

Gann said several hundred employees were working when the tornado moved through about 9:30 p.m., but they were moved to safety by managers. The company regularly practices tornado safety drills, Gann said, and had gone through a dry run as recently as two weeks ago.

The company is putting together a plan to resume operations, said Spirit CEO Jeff Turner.

“It will be a couple days before we have a good, solid plan,” he said.

Spirit was still without power, gas or communication Sunday evening. The gas was shut off because of multiple leaks.

“In some areas if we had power, we could put people back to work,” Turner said.

The ends of some of the buildings along Oliver collapsed, but the main parts of them are in much better shape, he said.

Sealing the ends to the buildings and putting up a temporary structure may allow operations to be restarted, even though the buildings wouldn’t be fixed at that point, Gann said.

“But it would get you up and going,” she said.

Early estimates are that about 80 percent of the damaged areas will be able to be cleaned up and resume running again in a fairly efficient time frame.

“The other 20 percent is going to be more problematic,” Gann said.

Most of the damage was to the infrastructure and not to the tooling, machinery and equipment.

Plant 2, where the 737 fuselage is produced, “will clean up pretty fast” once the power comes back on, Turner said.

Overall, there will be some impact to production.

“We’ll figure out how to keep it flowing and keep it going,” Turner said.

In some cases, employees may work overtime. And the company may ask suppliers to help as well.

Aboulafia said the immediate future of Boeing’s 737 program is potentially the biggest impact of the storm on the aviation industry. That impact will depend on how many fuselages and machines were destroyed .

“It has the potential for disruption to the 737 plans,” he said. “They’ve ramped up to close to two per working day on the 737 barrels, and of course a barrel is not something you’re going to have lying around like a fastener. It’s a question of how quickly you can work overtime and make up for those lost barrels.”

Spirit spokesman Ken Evans said “it’s way too early” to determine whether the 737 or any other program will be disrupted by the storm.

Boeing, Hawker

Boeing and Hawker Beechcraft on Wichita’s east side apparently sustained less damage.

Boeing spokeswoman Yvonne Johnson-Jones said several buildings at the plant sustained damage, but she was unable to provide specifics except that the company’s office complex was not damaged. No employees were injured, and all other structures on the Boeing campus were unaffected, Johnson-Jones said.

Boeing has suspended operations through today due to the power outage in the area, and will make a decision on further operations later today. Employees are asked to contact their manager or supervisor today to update their status, as the company checks the welfare of its workers, Johnson-Jones said.

Hawker Beechcraft’s Plant IV manufacturing facility on Greenwich sustained “limited and isolated damage” to its roof, company spokeswoman Sarah Estes said. Work on the roof is under way, Estes said.

No employees were injured and no aircraft were damaged, she said. All regularly scheduled personnel should report to work today.

The tornado also swept through McConnell Air Force Base, resulting in small power outages and minor damage to fences, buildings and trees, base officials said. The 184th Intelligence Wing, Kansas Air National Guard, sustained some damage. Members of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing are helping assess damages and provide additional support.

City spokesman Van Williams said reports of damage at Mid-Continent Airport were in error, and that city and private property like Bombardier Learjet escaped damage.

Cessna Aircraft officials did not respond to calls for comment on this story.

QT closures

The storm also forced two QuikTrip stores – at Harry and Webb Road, and Pawnee and Rock Road – to close, primarily because of power outages, company spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said.

Both stores were damaged, but Thornbrugh said much of that was confined to signs and gas pump canopies.

“We’re confident that once the power is restored we’ll be back up and running,” Thornbrugh said.

Thornbrugh said there were no injuries at either store, where employees followed company storm protocol, shutting the store down and ushering customers into walk-in coolers.

Contributing: Molly McMillin of The Eagle

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