Boeing in Talks to Buy Spirit AeroSystems, a Struggling Supplier


Boeing said on Friday that it was in talks to acquire Spirit AeroSystems, a struggling supplier that the manufacturer spun out nearly two decades ago and that makes the bodies of the 737 Max jet.

In reabsorbing Spirit, Boeing would be seeking to rescue and restructure a troubled but important partner that has been battered by years of losses and quality control problems. Spirit’s problems have also at times limited how fast Boeing can produce Max planes, its most popular commercial jet.

Bringing Spirit, one of the company’s key suppliers, back in house would be a significant strategic shift for Boeing, which has long relied on outsourcing to make its planes. That strategy has come under increasing scrutiny amid concerns about Boeing’s quality issues.

Both companies have faced intense scrutiny since Jan. 5, when a panel on a 737 Max 9 blew out during an Alaska Airlines flight shortly after takeoff, exposing passengers to deafening wind at 16,000 feet. The pilots operating the plane landed it safely with no serious injuries reported. Experts say the episode could have been catastrophic had it happened at a higher altitude with passengers moving about the cabin.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a report last month that the plane appeared to have left a Boeing factory without the bolts needed to hold the panel, known as a door plug, in place. Door plugs are used to cover gaps in a plane’s body where an emergency exit would have been installed if the jet had the maximum number of seats.

Acquiring Spirit could give Boeing the ability to change the supplier’s policies and production practices more easily, something it has been trying to do for a few years. Ongoing problems with quality and operations led to a leadership shake-up at Spirit last fall. Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing employee and senior Defense Department official, took over as chief executive of Spirit.

But buying Spirit could also saddle Boeing with more problems at more factories at a time when regulators are demanding that it improve quality control at its own plants.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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