Is Boeing About To Buy Back Spirit AeroSystems? UPDATED

By Spyros Georgilidakis | March 1, 2024

Boeing is in discussions that could see it buy aerostructures supplier Spirit AeroSystems, in a possible bid to limit its quality problems, among other things.

The company that is now called Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas, used to operate as Boeing Wichita. This was until 2005 when Boeing “off-loaded” the operations to a group of investors. At its creation, the new company continued producing the same parts for Boeing as it always had.

Is Boeing About To Buy Back [most of] Spirit AeroSystems?
Photo: Spirit AeroSystems

The reason Boeing sold the operation was because its management wanted to focus on Boeing’s “core” activities. And somewhat oddly, this didn’t include the Wichita aerostructures facility. Boeing identified its focus to be aircraft design and final integration and assembly.

The Wichita site wasn’t the only such Boeing asset to go, but it was arguably the biggest. Initially, the split seemed to work. Spirit made and continues to make large structures for all Boeing aircraft, including the entire fuselage of the 737.

Photo: Kentaro Iemoto, CC BY-SA 2.0

After the split, Spirit expanded by buying more aerostructures operations worldwide. It also got new customers, including Airbus. Spirit bought a number of facilities on the east side of the Atlantic Ocean.

One of these was the former Short Brothers aircraft manufacturing plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which makes wings for the Airbus A220. Spirit makes components for many more Airbus aircraft at other sites, including composite fuselage sections and other key parts for the A350.

Is Boeing About To Buy Back [most of] Spirit AeroSystems?
Spirit has facilities worldwide now. This is in Sait Nazaire, France. Photo: Duch, CC BY-SA 4.0

Boeing Buying Spirit – Righting a Wrong?

Fast forward to 2023 and 2024, and the situation between Boeing and Spirit looks decidedly less rosy. Last year, Jon Ostrower in The Air Current made an extensive dive into the problematic relationship between the two companies.

Not only did the arrangement have a lot of inefficiencies, but it also limited Boeing’s ability to control quality in the Wichita plant. Boeing repeatedly had to send employees over, to investigate high numbers of faulty Spirit parts.

Is Boeing About To Buy Back [most of] Spirit AeroSystems?
Photo: NTSB

This didn’t just impact Boeing’s quality, it also slowed down production. But even though many Boeing executives agreed that spinning off “Boeing Wichita” was a bad idea, a reversal seemed very unlikely. Boeing’s management has repeatedly dismissed the possibility of a Spirit tie-up.

Among other reasons, this was because buying back Spirit wouldn’t come cheap. Boeing’s finances have taken a series of hits since 2019. And of course, re-integrating Spirit into Boeing would mean off-loading some assets. Like those involving Airbus parts manufacturing, for example.

A SWISS Airbus A220. Photo: Quentin Krattiger

Well, now the news is that Spirit is in discussions with Boeing for a possible merger. And at the same time, Airbus is talking with Spirit about purchasing its Belfast A220 wing facility.

Some European Help?

Some would ask, why Airbus would effectively spend money to help Boeing acquire Spirit. That’s assuming that Airbus’ investment is necessary for such a deal, which isn’t a given. However, the A220 is the only aircraft for which Airbus currently doesn’t produce the wing in-house. And streamlining the A220 supply chain is an ongoing goal for the European manufacturer.

Photo: Airbus

On the west side of the Atlantic, Boeing must show regulators, lawmakers, and the public that it is serious about tackling its quality issues. And bringing Spirit back in-house could be a way for Boeing to send a strong message.

The NTSB’s preliminary report on the Alaska 737 MAX-9 blowout, along with whistleblower accounts of the sequence of events that led to the omission of fitting four bolts and nuts to the door plug, describe a problematic back-and-forth between workers of the two companies. It likely wouldn’t have happened, if everyone worked for the same employer.

Opened plug (left) and closed later (right) with bolts missing, during interior work. Photos: Boeing via NTSB

But can Boeing actually afford to buy Spirit today? Spirit’s stock value has dropped substantially following the events of the past few months. Even before the Alaska accident, two quality issues with 737 production that became public last year, hurt the supplier’s value.

That said, the news of such a merger caused Spirit’s shares to gain 13% in value. It will be interesting to see if Boeing can muster regulatory support for such a move. Even after taking on Airbus work, over 60% of Spirit’s revenue involves parts for Boeing aircraft.

Boeing’s HQ in Virginia. Photo: mr_t_77, CC BY-SA 2.0

Update: Boeing Releases Statement on Talks With Spirit

Late on Friday the 1st of March, Boeing released a statement, confirming that talks with Spirit are ongoing:

We have been working closely with Spirit AeroSystems and its leadership to strengthen the quality of the commercial airplanes that we build together. We confirm that our collaboration has resulted in preliminary discussions about making Spirit AeroSystems a part of Boeing again. 

We believe that the reintegration of Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems’ manufacturing operations would further strengthen aviation safety, improve quality and serve the interests of our customers, employees, and shareholders. 

Although there can be no assurance that we will be able to reach an agreement, we are committed to finding ways to continue to improve the safety and quality of the airplanes on which millions of people depend each and every day.


1 comment

  • Balazs Lengyel

    As I read 40% of Spirit business is NOT for Boeing. How can those customers trust Spirit-Boeing that it will prioritize the contracted work when there is a crunch? Can Airbus trust Boeing to supply part reliably to Europe?

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