Future for Spirit, workers unclear, even for industry insiders

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) The future for Spirit AeroSystems and its workers remains unclear, even for industry insiders. Analysts say that's because there's been no clear communication from Boeing regarding the grounding of the 737 Max jet and the halted production with that.

Spirit AeroSystems announced Friday plans to lay off 2,800 employees at its Wichita facility. The suspended 737 Max production at Spirit put pressure on the company because the Max program accounts for more than 50 percent of its revenue.

"It's a sad day on many different levels," Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia says of Friday's layoff notices at Spirit. "Obviously, there's the lives disrupted, but there's also comment embedded in this about how long it will take for the plane to return to production and indeed to full production. Clearly, this is going to be a longer road than expected."

Abdoulafia says Boeing hasn't provided much guidance in response to the 737 Max and the halted production "partly because they don't know themselves (when the plane will fly again), but also because of a lack of planning."

In contrast, he says Spirit has done well communication with its employees, many now facing the same uncertain future as the company itself.

"I think they've done what they had to do given the information they've had at the time, Abdoulafia says. "At first, I think there was every reason to believe there would be a six-week stoppage,and now it could even be a six-month stoppage."

If there is good news from the situation at Spirit,, he says it's that the job market is strong for laid-off workers, but that could have a negative impact on Spirit once Max production ramps up again.

This negative impact is with laid off employees finding jobs elsewhere, limiting the likelihood of them returning to Spirit once the 737 Max production resumes.

Aviation industry consultant says he estimates the 737 Max production to be halted at least 60 to 90 more days.

"It could be longer, but that's based on today's information and that could change dramatically tomorrow," Hamilton says.

When things do get moving again, he says it'll move slowly and production won't immediately pick back up at the pace it left off before the 737 Max was grounded.

"It's not going to be a situation where you just turn the key and you're back at rate 52 for Spirit, or even 42 when production was halted," Hamilton says. "Ti's going to be a slow ramp up, so it's going to be a slow recall of employees at Spirit."

With the prospect of many laid off workers finding jobs elsewhere, Aboulafia says another worry is whether there will be skilled workers available for Spirit when 737 Max production does ramp back up.

"Trained, experienced workers (are) absolutely key in restraining production not too long from now. but here we are and I'm afraid the news is not good at all," he says.

Aboulafia and Hamilton says the 737 Max is ready to fly now and that the safety issues that grounded it are fixed. The holdup now is the 83 different regulators overseeing the plane's recertification process and how long that will take.