French air parts maker Figeac has plans to grow in Wichita

05/09/2014 6:13 PM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

When France-based Figeac Aero closed the deal to buy aviation supplier Sonaca NMF Wichita last week, it brought with it major plans to grow.

The Wichita site at 9313 E. 39th St. North was renamed Figeac Aero North America to reflect its desire to make Wichita its North American headquarters.

It’s the French company’s first U.S. factory.

In the next few weeks, Figeac will move work now done in France for Spirit AeroSystems to Wichita to bring the work closer to its customer.

It also will add a “speed shop” to build machined parts quickly. Two machines are on order, part of the investment being made in the local plant, said Van McMullen, general manager of the facility. The equipment will be delivered soon.

Figeac has much bigger plans to bring in work and grow. But whether all the growth will be in Wichita will depend on the company’s ability to acquire additional land and local and state incentives to keep it financially competitive, McMullen said.

It wants to add manufacturing capabilities.

“We will know in the next 30 days if it’s going to be able to happen here in Wichita,” McMullen said. If not, the work will go to Mexico.

“I don’t want to see the work going to Mexico,” he said.

The company has been working with the Wichita Greater Economic Development Coalition and will make a presentation to the Wichita City Council soon.

If it works out, the company will need to expand from 72,000 square feet of space to 240,000 square feet, McMullen said.

And it would need to hire more people.

The site now employs 43. Six people have been added in the past five days, McMullen said. Seven new employees start next week.

The plan is to hire 15 mechanics and technical support employees a month over the next six months, allowing the plant to expand from one shift to three, McMullen said.

It will hire more people if Wichita is the site for all of its expansion efforts.

“If it all falls into place,” the plan is to hire 175 people in the next 15 to 24 months, McMullen said.

The city is looking for growth opportunities, said Jeff Blubaugh, Wichita’s vice mayor.

Wichita will continue to build airplanes and support products, Blubaugh said, but “our growth in aviation is going to be with Tier 2 suppliers.”

Wichita must take care of its companies because other communities and states want what we have, Blubaugh said.

The Wichita facility now performs the forming and protecting of machined aluminum wing skins, spars, frames and extrusions.

It also does peen forming, liquid penetrant inspection, saturation shot peening, peen straightening, anodizing, chemical conversion coating and aerospace paint coating applications.

Figeac was first attracted to Sonaca NMF by the plant’s proximity to aviation manufacturers and because of the certifications, qualifications and requirements needed to produce work for aircraft manufacturers, said Hocine Benaoum, Figeac Aero’s vice president of business development.

“Every customer has a specific requirement you have to be certified for,” McMullen said.

Being close to its aviation customers is an advantage, Benaoum said.

“Customers think twice about getting parts in France instead of next door,” he said. “Our customers will feel better having their parts close.”

It also will cut transportation costs and delivery time.

Today, the Wichita facility has yearly revenue of about $10.3 million, McMullen said. The objective is to get to $250 million in annual revenue in the next 10 years.

“That’s the challenge we’ve been given,” McMullen said.

Its three biggest customers are Spirit AeroSystems, GKN and Triumph.

It has worked on Embraer, Bombardier, Cessna, Boeing and Gulfstream products.

If customers require it, Figeac is prepared to add sites in Washington or California, McMullen said.

But “the heart of Figeac North America will be Wichita,” Benaoum added.

Figeac Aero is based in Figeac, France, and does subassembly, structural parts, engine parts and precision parts for the aviation industry. It is listed on the French stock exchange.

Montreal-based aircraft supplier NMF Global opened the Wichita facility in 2001.

It originally came to Wichita because it needed to expand and because more planes were built in Wichita than anyplace else, its general manager said at the time.

The facility became part of the Belgium-based Sonaca Group in November 2003.

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