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Spirit AeroSystems Announces Another Round Of Layoffs

spirit_15.jpg
Hugo Phan
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KMUW/File photo

Spirit AeroSystems announced Friday it would lay off 1,450 employees at its Wichita plant amid the reduced demand for commercial airplanes.

It was the latest blow for what traditionally has been Wichita’s largest employer.

Friday’s news follows layoffs in January, a production halt in March and furloughs in April.

The company’s initial problems were caused by the grounding of Boeing’s troubled 737 Max, Spirit’s most important program.

The latest setbacks are a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has decimated commercial air travel globally.

Both Boeing and Airbus, Spirit’s major customers, recently lowered aircraft production rates because of the pandemic.

Friday’s layoffs begin May 15 and will affect both hourly and salaried employees. 

Spirit said smaller layoffs are likely at its facilities in Oklahoma and North Carolina. It said it is reviewing workforce needs at plants in France, Malaysia and Scotland.

"Our actions follow reduced demand from our customers, who have lowered production rates as demand for new airplanes declines due to the impact of COVID-19," Spirit CEO and President Tom Gentile said in a statement.

Spirit said its work on defense programs will continue. It also said some commercial aircraft employees could be moved to defense programs.

The company also said 700 employees will transfer to a temporary special project to manufacture medical devices in Wichita. The program is expected to last until at least October.

Spirit said it would release more details on the program in the future.

Friday’s layoffs were the second for Spirit in four months. The company laid off 2,800 employees in January after Boeing halted production of the 737 Max. That program accounts for half of Spirit’s annual revenue.

The plane was grounded after two fatal crashes in 2019. Efforts to get it back into service have been slowed even further by the pandemic.

Spirit halted production on all Boeing programs for two weeks in March after Boeing announced it would suspend work at its facilities in Washington state for two weeks.

Just as the halt was preparing to end, Boeing announced it would suspend production indefinitely. Spirit responded with a 21-day furlough for employees working on Boeing programs.

Employees not furloughed began four-day work weeks, and the company's executives took a 20 percent pay cut.

Earlier this week, Boeing said it would cut 10% of its workforce, which numbered about 160,000 at the beginning of the year. The announcement came after Boeing reported heavy first-quarter losses during an earnings call.

Spirit will announce first-quarter earnings on Wednesday.

"I remain confident in the future of the aviation industry and believe in our ability as a company to weather this pandemic and emerge stronger," Gentile said in a statement.

Tom Shine is the director of news and public affairs. Follow him on Twitter @thomaspshine. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, a board member of the Kansas chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.