Spirit AeroSystems, which supplies Boeing with 737 fuselages and nose-and-cockpit sections for all its widebody jets, suffered a “direct hit” late Saturday night from a powerful tornado that destroyed walls on the east side of the sprawling Wichita plant and ripped away large sections of roof.
No one at the plant was injured, but the company has suspended operations at least until Wednesday. Structural engineers are trying to determine whether it’s safe for Spirit’s teams to enter.
“Some walls have collapsed. Roofs are off. We have no power. No gas service. Our email systems are down,” Spirit spokeswoman Debbie Gann said Sunday.
If Spirit suspends deliveries of aircraft parts for any extended period, it would swiftly slow down or stop Boeing production lines in the Puget Sound region.
Gann said management is optimistic that operations can resume soon.
“We sustained substantial damage,” she said. “But we think, at least at first blush, that most of the damage is to infrastructure as opposed to equipment. … The majority of our production capability is intact.”
She also said it doesn’t appear there was any major damage to partially completed aircraft sections.
“Obviously our intention is to get our plant up and operating as quickly as possible. We’ve got to do that in a safe manner.”
The Boeing facility most vulnerable to disruption is the 737 plant in Renton, which receives about nine complete fuselages delivered by train from Wichita every week.
The widebody-jet programs in Everett depend on Spirit for the front sections of all their airplanes, as well as for engine pylons and other parts.
Boeing defense-division spokeswoman Yvonne Johnson-Jones said its Wichita facility wasn’t as badly damaged as Spirit.
All the buildings are structurally sound, but there is a lot of broken glass and some potential roof damage.
Boeing had suspended Wichita operations through Monday as damage was assessed.
Boeing Wichita does mainly maintenance and modification work on military aircraft – tankers and bombers – as well as on the U.S. government’s fleet of executive aircraft.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes spokeswoman Mary Kelly said that Boeing doesn’t know yet how badly its supply chain to the Puget Sound area will be affected by the Spirit damage.
“We’re certainly going to be spending a lot of time looking at that in the next couple of days,” Kelly said.
“Right now, I don’t have an answer and I’m not sure that anybody does.”