Boeing & Spirit AeroSystems Deal Imminent—UK Union Raises Concerns

Boeing & Spirit AeroSystems Deal Imminent—UK Union Raises Concerns

Boeing is nearing a deal to buy back Spirit AeroSystems. The key supplier and former subsidiary, is reported to have made progress with its other chief customer, Airbus, to separate the divisions that handle the Boeing rival’s work.

That would include the former Bombardier and Shorts SpiritAerosystems plant in Belfast, Ireland which makes the wings for the Airbus A220, and the former BAE Systems plant in Prestwick, Scotland, which builds Airbus airframes and wings.

On Friday, Unite, a union representing the majority of the SpiritAerosystems workforce across the UK, raised concerns over Boeing’s buy-out. In a statement, the union said it is seeking assurance the purchase would move forward with Airbus acquiring “all those parts of the business which fall into its supply chain” and “keeping Belfast and Prestwick manufacturing operations intact with no loss of jobs.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, said, “The livelihoods of workers must not be put at risk as corporate giants carve up the future of this company. It is vital that all workers are quickly given cast iron guarantees over their futures. “Unite will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the future of this highly skilled and dedicated workforce at Spirit is fully protected.”

Spirit Aerosystems Belfast employs around 3,600 workers and Unite estimates that 7,000 jobs in Northern Ireland rely on Spirit’s activities in the region. Most of Spirit’s production in Northern Ireland is for Airbus, but approximately 40% of jobs are tied to production for others aerospace companies, including Bombardier and Rolls Royce. Prestwick employs 1,000 workers and Unite is asking for the same assurances of job security for them.

“Any deal in which production lines or sites in the Airbus supply chain transfer to Airbus but non-Airbus production transfers to Boeing or a third-party poses a clear concern for jobs,” the union states. Unite raised concerns that a break-up of these divisions “would undermine wider economies of scale and raise a longer-term threat to all operations.”

Unite’s regional co-ordinating officer George Brash said, “All Spirit’s operations in Northern Ireland must transfer together – so that our members’ jobs are secure and the aerospace manufacturing base is safeguarded.”

Boeing began negotiations to bring Spirit back into the fold earlier this year in an effort to stabilize essential supply chain and address quality issues following the blow out of a doorplug on an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 flight in January.

The NTSB’s preliminary investigation has determined that this blow out was most likely due to four missing plugs which were removed during an undocumented repair during which the door plug was removed and reinstalled by a Spirit AeroSystems worker at the Boeing plant.

Boeing is expected to take SpiritAerosystem’s plants in Wichita, Kansas and Tulsa, Oklahoma restoring the structure of operations before Boeing divested the division in 2005. However, severing Spirit’s ties to other aerospace companies is not a cut-and-dry effort.

In the nearly two decades since Boeing spun off its critical division, Spirit has become a key supplier to a number of Boeing’s commercial and defense competitors, including its chief commercial rival Airbus.

The European aerospace company had threatened to block any deal that might imperil its intellectual property, granting Boeing access to knowledge of the engineering of critical parts for its aircraft.

In the intervening weeks, Boeing and Airbus are reported to have succeeded in identifying the Spirit AeroSystems programs that each will take back, but there are still the other programs for third parties unaccounted for.

Reuters reports that “a deal over Spirit’s Airbus-related assets was more likely than not before Airbus’ mid-year earnings in July.” However, The AirCurrent has reported a deal could be announced as soon as Monday.

Unite’s push for answers on the niggling question of other Spirit AeroSystems work in the UK could impact those predictions.

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