Tier 1 suppliers: on the way out?

Interesting thought from GKN technical director Rich Oldfield – the aerospace industry is evolving to leave no room for tier 1 suppliers, those providers of major structural components and systems to airframers like Airbus and Boeing.

What Oldfield is anticipating is an increasing reliance by the airframers on what he calls “super tier 1s”, who are responsible for major design work and become so integral to any programme as to be indispensible partners for the life of the programme. Electronic systems suppliers are a good example, he notes; already, much of what they provide is a “black box” as far as the airframers are concerned.

Aerostructures are reaching a similar stage, as production processes that are developed by, and belong to, suppliers become as much a part of the finished aircraft’s performance as the shape and size of the components.

Thus, reckons Oldfield, companies will either become super tier 1s, or be tier 2s providing subsystems or individual components. The tier 1 as we

And, he says, there’s no reason why any particular supplier can’t operate on both levels. GKN already does that, he says, noting that its $500 million of business with Airbus makes it a partner, while at $70 million it is really a tier 2 to Boeing.

That Boeing business can certainly grow, he adds, based on capabilities being developed to supply Airbus.

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