Department of Defense allocates $80 million to Spirit AeroSystems

Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 3:26 PM CDT
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From grounded commercial jets to furloughs, the COVID-19 pandemic has heavily hit the aviation industry, including Wichita's Spirit AeroSystems which Wednesday, announced 21-day furloughs for about 900 employees because Boeing requested they pause work on the 737 MAX.

They asked us to stop work on four aircraft and not to start on 16 others," Spirit AeroSystems President and CEO Tom Gentile says.

Those approximate 900 furloughs begin Monday (June 15).

On Thursday, a piece of good news for Spirit followed the announcement on the latest round of furloughs. The company announced the Department of Defense allocated $80 million to Spirit so it can continue as a defense contractor.

The company says the funding, part of the national response to COVID-19 in support of the Defense Industrial Base, allows it "to expand domestic production capability for advanced tooling, composite fabrication and metallic fabrication."

"We appreciate the confidence our customers have in Spirit's capabilities to serve a variety of critical defense needs," says Spirit AeroSystems Defense and Fabrication President Duane Hawkins. "This funding for Spirit provides the Department of Defense additional production capacity for defense needs and helps maintain critical skills in the Defense Industrial Base."

Spirit says this will help keep hundreds of workers employed. Those furloughed won't be paid, but they are eligible for unemployment and will be able to keep t heir benefits while out of work. U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) says a shift from commercial to defense production will help to prevent more furloughs.

Moran says diversifying the production of Kansas aviation companies is important for the future of the industry, even when the threat of COVID-19 decreases.

"If we can diversify the workload of the companies in Kansas, they'll benefit from that," he says. "This exemplifies why this is necessary, but it's a much bigger and longer-term project than just trying to respond to COVID-19."

Spirit says it could be two to three years before it's back to regular production levels, but first, air travel must resume so airlines can place orders for new aircraft.

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