Boeing Back in Talks to Buy Spirit AeroSystems, But Will It Fix Quality Control?

Boeing Back in Talks to Buy Spirit AeroSystems, But Will It Fix Quality Control?

Boeing is circling back for a potential acquisition of Spirit AeroSystems, the company it spun off nearly two decades ago. The news, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, comes as a surprise after Boeing executives previously dismissed any interest in a buyback.

This potential reunion raises questions about whether bringing Spirit back under the Boeing umbrella will address the aerospace giant's recent quality control struggles.

A Strategic About-Face

Photo by Ian Taylor

Boeing's decision to sell Spirit in 2005 stemmed from a strategic shift towards outsourcing manufacturing. This strategy aimed to streamline Boeing's operations and focus on final assembly, allowing them to become a "large-scale systems integrator" reliant on suppliers like Spirit. However, recent years have seen Boeing grapple with production delays and issues related to the 737 MAX and 787 Dreamliner programs. These problems have led some to believe that Boeing may have outsourced too much control, potentially compromising quality oversight.

The hope seems to be that reacquiring Spirit will give Boeing more control over its supply chain and potentially improve quality oversight. However, I'm cautious that bringing Spirit back into the fold won't be a simple fix.

Beyond Supplier Oversight

While a buyback could offer some advantages in terms of supply chain visibility, it's unlikely to be a silver bullet for Boeing's quality woes. Here's why:

  • Cultural Integration Challenges: Reintegrating a company with a different operational history of nearly two decades can be fraught. Merging corporate cultures and management styles takes time and effort, potentially hindering progress in the short term. Boeing will need to carefully navigate this cultural integration to ensure a smooth transition and avoid disruptions that could further impact production.
  • Legacy Issues at Spirit: It's important to remember that Spirit itself has faced production problems in recent years. Boeing will need to address these existing issues within Spirit alongside its own internal challenges. A buyback won't magically solve problems that already exist within both companies.
  • Systemic Concerns: Boeing's quality control issues might be more deeply rooted than just supplier oversight. The company has faced criticism for its engineering practices and overall production processes. Re-integrating Spirit might not address broader problems within Boeing's own organization. Until Boeing addresses these systemic concerns, quality issues could persist.

The Path Forward

Clemens Vasters from Viersen, Germany, Germany, CC BY 2.0

The potential acquisition of Spirit AeroSystems signifies a significant shift for Boeing. While it offers some potential benefits in terms of supply chain control, it's just one piece of a much larger puzzle.

For Boeing to truly address its quality control issues, a more comprehensive approach that examines several factors is likely necessary. This could involve:

  • Culture Shift: Fostering a culture of safety and accountability within Boeing, emphasizing quality at every stage of production, from design to manufacturing and assembly. This might involve changes in leadership philosophy and employee training programs.
  • Process Improvement: Investing in new technologies and processes to improve quality control throughout the manufacturing lifecycle. This could include automation, advanced inspection techniques, and data-driven quality monitoring systems.
  • Supplier Network Re-evaluation: While Spirit is a major player, Boeing may need to assess its broader supplier network to ensure consistent quality across all components. This could involve stricter quality standards for suppliers, closer collaboration, and potentially even bringing some manufacturing back in-house for critical components.
  • Regulatory Scrutiny: Boeing will likely face continued scrutiny from regulatory agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Rebuilding trust with regulators will require a transparent commitment to quality control and a willingness to address any lingering issues.

Only through a multi-pronged approach that tackles cultural issues, engineering practices, supplier oversight, and regulatory requirements can Boeing hope to regain trust and ensure the quality of its aircraft. The potential buyback of Spirit could be a step in the right direction, but it's just the beginning of a long road to recovery and repairing Boeing's reputation.

Read more