When Beechcraft and Cessna merged in 2014 as part of Textron’s acquisition, the challenge that lay before Kent Long and his team was integrating the parts operations of two different airplane manufacturers.
Everything between the two manufacturers was different. Different systems to manage parts inventory. Different ways to distribute those parts. And different locations from which to distribute them.
In some ways it was almost a merger of equals, said Long, director of Textron Aviation’s aftermarket operations.
A key part of the integration was deciding where to locate the hub of the parts operation.
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Ultimately, the decision was made to place it in Wichita, which led to an expansion of the combined company’s parts operation and the creation of more jobs.
But it wasn’t easy, Long said. And, he said, it required a lot of faith by Textron Aviation senior executives that his team could carry out the integration without interrupting the business of getting airplane parts to customers as quickly as possible.
“There was a risk that we could have grounded a lot of customers,” he said.
The operation, which extends to the company’s 11 service centers in the U.S. and seven overseas that act as regional parts hubs, provides hundreds of thousands of parts for new production airplanes and those manufactured as far back as 1986.
Those parts include tires, brakes, batteries, leading edges and wings. “The largest part we shipped out of here was a wing,” Long said, adding it was shipped in a 53-foot-long by 8-foot-wide package to Germany.
In Wichita, the company has two warehouse and distribution facilities: the West Campus near K-42 and Hoover and the East Campus at Central and Webb. The West Campus stores and distributes small parts, like brakes, while the East Campus has large parts, like wings.
About 90 percent of the parts it ships are for next-day delivery. Proximity to the customer who has a broken airplane is key to getting them back up in the air, Long said.
“An airplane down is not helping anybody,” he said.
As Long and his team began planning the integration of Beechcraft and Cessna’s parts operations, they had a lot of things to consider, including where could they consolidate operations.
One big consideration involved Wichita. That’s because before the merger, Beechcraft had moved its parts distribution to Texas, where it contracted with a third party to run the operation from a 200,000-square-foot facility in the Dallas/Forth Worth suburb of Grapevine.
Grapevine’s proximity to a large, metropolitan area and a large air shipping hub was weighed against what Wichita could offer. What Wichita could offer, Long said, was that it was close to many of the suppliers that manufacture its parts. And geographically speaking, it was close enough to Memphis, Tenn., which is a major FedEx hub, allowing Textron Aviation to ship parts at a later time of the day for next-day delivery.
“FedEx picks up as late as 9 o’clock at night,” he said. “Our cutoff time down there would be 7 or 8.”
The decision to move the Beechcraft parts operation back to Wichita led Textron Aviation to hire about 45 new workers, Long said.
The company wouldn’t disclose the number of people its parts business employs. But a Textron Aviation spokeswoman said the company’s service business that includes parts has about 3,000 workers.
Once that decision was made, the company had to find space in Wichita to accommodate Beechcraft’s Texas parts inventory. Textron found it on the East Campus, which before the merger was Beechcraft’s plant.
“In a way it was bringing up something almost as big as you were,” Long said.
Along with that change, Long’s team decided to split the parts inventory not by airplane brand, but by size. The East Campus facility offered 120,000 square feet, so large parts went there. But the absorption of small Beechcraft and Hawker parts at the West Campus meant Textron Aviation would need to double the 35,000-square-foot warehouse that previously housed Citation business jet parts.
In 2015, Textron Aviation began work to add a mezzanine level to the West Campus warehouse. That construction work meant a disruption to the operations there, prompting about half of its parts warehouse and distribution to be closed off for the addition of the mezzanine.
Around the same time, the Beechcraft inventory from Texas was making its way back to Wichita, and the company was implementing new automation and parts forecasting systems.
But during this period, the company never slipped up. It fulfilled parts orders correctly and got them out on time, he said.
The parts team won the Textron Inc. Chairman’s Award in 2015 for the integration, he added.
“A lot of different activity was taking place,” Long said. “It was just a lot of change for a lot of folks, all the while keeping this billion-dollar business going.”