Thousands of Spirit AeroSystems workers gathered Monday morning for a celebration sponsored by Boeing, which honored them for their quick recovery after taking a direct hit from an EF-3 tornado April 14.
None of Boeing’s customers was affected by the devastation, a feat few felt possible in the hours following the hit.
It was nothing short of a miracle, said Kent Fisher, Boeing vice president and general manager of supplier management.
“The challenge you faced was incredible,” he told the crowd.
Power and water were knocked out, gas lines broken, major production equipment knocked offline and roofs blown off as winds of about 160 mph ripped through the site.
The storm damaged 40 buildings.
The goal was set to resume full operations by April 23. Employees and contractors worked around the clock to make it happen.
Shipments resumed in three days
Eight days after the tornado, all 10,800 Wichita employees were back at work.
Despite nine days of lost production in what is a tight production schedule, Boeing didn’t miss a delivery.
And the supplier made its deliveries without compromising quality, Boeing officials said.
“This is going to make our relationship even stronger,” Fisher said. “Our customers, the airlines, depend so much on what you do every day.”
Over the next 20 years, worldwide airline demand is expected to total 33,000 airplanes, Fisher said.
“We have a great opportunity,” he said. The result of the event builds confidence in Boeing’s airline customers “in ways I cannot even begin to tell you. So thank you so much.”
Beverly Wyse, Boeing vice president and general manager of the 737 program, agreed.
“We can’t imagine being in this business with anybody else,” Wyse said.
Across the street from the Spirit site, Boeing had flown in a 737 commercial airliner to be delivered to Copa Airlines.
Spirit workers built its fuselage in the days following the tornado and shipped it on schedule, Wyse said.
The company builds parts of every Boeing commercial airplane, including the entire 737 fuselage.
Between April 15 and the end of May, Spirit has delivered 50 fuselages and 50 pylons to Boeing.
“We are so dependent on you,” Wyse said. “We are one team.”
The storm hit at about 10:45 p.m. April 14, while about 200 employees were on site and took refuge as debris blew through the buildings.
It looked like a “war zone,” one employee said on a video about what it was like to be there.
“It was pretty scary.”
Words can’t describe what Spirit went through, said Mike King, Spirit senior vice president and chief operating officer.
As they went through each building to assess damage, King said he was glad when a building was dark.
“That meant the building had a roof,” King said.
Spirit president and CEO Jeff Turner said his heart sank when he heard that Spirit had been hit.
“Thank God all of our people were safe,” Turner said. “We picked ourselves up; we came together as a team, and we got to work and the job at hand.”
Looking ahead, there’s a lot more still to do.
Temporary fixes allowed for production and work to resume, but permanent repairs still need to be made.
That will take months.
“Every time we get a hard rain, we find more things that need to be fixed,” Turner said.
He said what workers have been able to achieve in the days and weeks following the tornado has been amazing.
“Thank you so much for what you’ve done,” Turner told them.