Airbus shakes up aero parts manufacturing


Airbus has launched the biggest shake-up of its manufacturing network in more than a decade, with large-parts activities reorganized in France and Germany and some small-parts production hived off ahead of a possible sale.

The European planemaker said on Wednesday it would combine aerostructure assembly in France under one entity, bringing major fuselage parts plants in St Nazaire and Nantes together with the worldwide operations of its Stelia subsidiary.

In Germany, its Premium Aerotec unit will be split, with part of it combined with manufacturing plants in Stade and some of the large Hamburg factory, and the rest folded into a new business specialising in small mass-produced “detail” parts.

“We are in the process of reviewing different ownership structures to identify the best possible solution,” a spokesman said, referring to the new Germany-based detail-parts spin-off.

Those parts can range from small generic items like metal brackets costing a few dollars to complex machined items costing tens of thousands, such as those made in the highly automated Varel plant in Germany.

Also included in the new spin-off are part of the Augsburg plant in Germany and the Brasov facility in Romania.

The shake-up comes two months after Chief Executive Guillaume Faury declared aerostructures, which includes the manufacturing of fuselage parts, to be “core” .

Once considered the less valuable end of the aerospace spectrum, aerostructures are considered vital to the aerodynamically complex, decarbonised designs of the future.

Reversing power8

The rethink draws a line under efforts to sell the whole of Stelia and PremiumAerotec – both carved out in 2009 as part of a restructuring plan called Power8. Initial sale hopes were dashed by the financial crisis and few buyers have emerged since.

However, some industry sources noted Airbus had backed away from reviewing the Bremen plant in Germany, whose future has long been the subject of internal debate as it handles aircraft wing work overlapping with operations in Britain.

Stelia and PremiumAerotec have combined sales of 3.6 billion euros and 15 000 staff. Bringing them back under direct Airbus control could result in significant costs and investment, Jefferies analyst Sandy Morris wrote.

The new industrial blueprint, which coincides with a broader restructuring involving up to 15 000 core Airbus jobs triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, is subject to talks with unions.

It will go into effect at the start of next year and its implementation will be a priority for the company’s new operations chief, Alberto Gutierrez, who moved up from running the military aircraft business in a reshuffle last week.

Discussions continue about manufacturing operations in Spain, which has been hard hit by the halt of production of the A380 superjumbo and a slump in demand for wide-body aircraft.

Airbus commercial jetmaking is spread out across a dozen or more plants in France, Germany, Britain and Spain, with final assembly outposts in China and the United States.

The company has traditionally been forced to accommodate political demands from its core European backers to protect manufacturing sites under deals dating back decades.

But the coronavirus crisis has forced it to cut costs while giving it the opportunity to reorganize at a time when output is 40% slower than usual due to the drop in air travel demand.

The shake-up appears to shy away from factory closures but leaves the door open to greater internal competition whenever Airbus launches future projects, industry sources said.

Airbus and US rival Boeing are increasingly locked in a battle over production strategy after a long sales boom.