have we gone too far in outsourcing aircraft manufacturing?

have we gone too far in outsourcing aircraft manufacturing?
have we gone too far in outsourcing aircraft manufacturing?

The incident left its mark. Last January, a cap holder came loose in mid-flight on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9. Last April, an engine cover was torn off during takeoff. on a Southwest Airlines aircraft. This succession of quality problems has focused all eyes on Spirit Aerosystems, in charge of the fuselage of the 737 MAX. Boeing indicated on March 1 that it wanted to buy the American equipment manufacturer to reintegrate these activities internally 18 years after having outsourced them.

Change of gear on aerostructures

Enough to merit a look back at the reasons which pushed the two main aircraft manufacturers to massively use subcontracting for the manufacture of aircraft.

In 2006, Boeing decided to sell its aerostructures business to Spirit for the fuselage of the 737 at the time when the manufacturer decided to produce a composite 787. At Airbus at the time, we tried to act like the world leader. We were in the process of launching the A350 and we decided to apply the same logic to the fuselages with the creation in 2009 of Stelia in France and Premium Aerotech in Germany.

The goal was to become more competitive in this aerostructure market and eventually sell these companies. This worked very well, particularly on the Stelia part where thanks to this initiative, we succeeded in this part of the value chain, to seek competitiveness, to open ecosystems in Tunisia, Morocco and Portugal », recalls Florent Massou, operations director of Airbus Commercial Aircraft during the Paris Air Forum organized this Thursday at the Maison de la Mutualité.

But the European aircraft manufacturer decides to make the opposite movement in 2021 by reintegrating these aerostructure activities with the creation of Airbus Atlantic in France and Airbus Aéro structures GmbH in Germany. “ We made this decision because aerostructures are the basis of an aircraft since they represent 40% of our operational activity. Finally, three years later, Boeing does the same thing », he adds.

Today, 12,000 subcontractors provide Airbus with more than 2.2 million parts every day to produce between three and four aircraft across the entire product range. About the Spirit, HASirbus could take over part of the activities of Spirit AeroSystems, its boss Guillaume Faury confirmed at the end of April. On this subject, Florent Massou indicates: “We are in discussions with Spirit, a key partner for us, to ensure the continued success of the business. »

Airbus seeks solution to the takeover of its equipment supplier Spirit Aerosystems by Boeing

The alternative path chosen by the Brazilian Embraer

Across the Atlantic, the Brazilian manufacturer Embraer, the world’s third largest manufacturer behind Airbus and Boeing, has taken a slightly different path.

Embraer relies heavily on internal skills. For example, in our factories in Brazil, we control everything from the first cutting of the metal to the design and manufacturing of the landing gear. However, on the E2 program, our latest range of commercial aircraft, we obtained certification by three authorities before the planned date.

We have also created a joint venture with Safran on the cabin while aircraft manufacturers do not normally position themselves on this part of the aircraft. “, describes Marie-Louise Philippe, vice president of sales and marketing and head of the Europe and Central Asia region at Embraer.

For its part, Safran manages a colossal supply chain of 6,000 direct suppliers of aeronautical parts. Marjolaine Grange, group director of industry, purchasing and performance of the group, does not perceive any major upheavals in her organization but is monitoring closely “commodities considered strategic, in other words where mastery of the industrial part of the parts is essential to offer innovative products”.

With particular attention “on titanium and steel and more generally all hot materials for our aircraft engines”, notes the manager. “ Today we face a global steel crisis. But an airplane has 250 grades of steel. To remedy this, we will purchase large volumes on the market at the right price level for all of our suppliers », confirms Florent Massou.

Heavyweights in aeronautics will also be able to rely on Aubert & Duval’s expertise in steel. “ Cooperation with Aubert & Duval makes perfect sense from the perspective of preparing the future of engines », considers Marjolaine Grange. Last year, a consortium made up of Airbus, Safran and Tikehau Capital finalized the purchase of the metallurgist Aubert & Duval, in serious financial difficulties, from the mining group Eramet.

Resilience of logistics flows

Last challenge for the sector, the management of logistics flows. “ By outsourcing 60 to 80% of production, this leads us to look for suppliers all over the world. For example, we have a final assembly plant in China. And we need to get there through the Suez Canal. When the canal was closed, we had to make a detour to Africa with 3 to 4 weeks of additional delays. This raises the question of the resilience of our global supplier chain. », notes Florent Massou.

This also raises the question of the evolution of the carbon footprint of aeronautical products and the weight of logistics in this carbon footprint. », underlines Bruno Bouf, vice-president aerospace & defense of Capgemini.

The leader also points out in the face of all these challenges the necessary “ upgrading of talents and resources in the sector »: “When we look today at the pyramid of resources among major contractors, one person in five is over 55, these people have real expertise and this is the reason why training academies are created. » As is the case, for example, at Safran, which launched a supply chain academy this year to train the battalions of employees working with suppliers.

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