Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury admits that the airframer was not expecting to be negotiating an acquisition of key aircraft programmes from beleaguered US firm Spirit AeroSystems, but insists it is necessary and that Airbus is ready to absorb them.

Speaking to FlightGlobal shortly before Boeing’s 1 July confirmation that it was taking over Spirit, Faury said Airbus’s aim last year – as the two sides wrangled over costs – had been to ensure its relationship with Spirit created the conditions for the US firm to “do a good job” carrying out its Airbus work.

“We were simply not going to put our hands on the Airbus work packages,” he says.

But the situation changed in the first week of 2024 when the in-flight loss of a door-plug from a Boeing 737 Max triggered an avalanche of anxiety over Boeing’s quality control and focused attention on financially-pressured Spirit, manufacturer of the Max’s fuselage.

Boeing’s decision to pursue re-absorption of Spirit – a company formed two decades ago, when Boeing sold its Wichita and Tulsa manufacturing facilities to Canadian investors – is intended to give the US airframer greater oversight and control of the critical aerostructures operation. But Spirit’s post-divestment expansion into Airbus programmes has complicated the situation.

“We’ve been surprised,” admits Faury. “We were not expecting Boeing acquiring Spirit until they announced it. That is completely changing the equation for us.”

Airbus A220-300 in flight-c-Airbus

Source: Airbus

Wings, fuselage structures, and pylons for the A220 are built by Spirit

He stresses that Airbus needs to retain “direct control” of the work packages carried out by Spirit.

“We don’t want things, parts, components to come from Boeing,” says Faury. “And I’m not sure Boeing wants to supply directly Airbus on critical parts.

“I don’t want to be in a situation to have major equipment [being supplied by] my direct competitors. Here and there, it’s not a biggie, but if you have major parts, that becomes a bit of a different thing.

“I’m not suggesting we necessarily want to own everything that is today’s Spirit Airbus business. It could be in the hands of other trusted suppliers.”

But Faury states that transferring primary components from Spirit to Airbus – the section 15 central fuselage of the A350, produced in North Carolina, and the wings of the A220, built in Belfast – would “make sense”.

He says he understands Boeing’s desire to insource the work Spirit undertakes on its behalf, pointing out that Airbus has been pursuing a similar strategy with its unification of aerostructures operations in France, Germany, and other international sites, under the Airbus Atlantic and Airbus Aerostructures banners.

Airbus’s integration of the Spirit work, while unexpected, is “not in contradiction with our main core strategy”, says Faury.

But he also points out that Airbus is not looking to pursue deep vertical integration. “We’re not in a situation to go from ‘buy’ to ‘make’ everywhere,” he says. “There’s no decision to verticalise the whole supply chain – it doesn’t make sense.”

A350 centre fuselage integration-c-Airbus

Source: Airbus

Spirit produces the A350’s central fuselage section 15, pictured on the right

Airbus has yet to finalise its preliminary transaction agreement with Spirit, which will cover not only the A350 and A220 wing work, but also the A220 packages in Casablanca and Wichita. The future of Spirit’s Scottish arm at Prestwick – which supplies A320neo leading- and trailing-edge components – as well as non-Airbus activity in Belfast and Subang, Malaysia, has yet to be determined.

Faury says Airbus is prepared for the Spirit transaction. “The balance sheet of Airbus is very much capable of doing this,” he says.

“I think [the challenge is] more about post-merger integration, taking control of the plants, the service-level agreements with the rest of Spirit, when it comes to how the parts are procured today, and how you manage the transition.

“It’s a classical carve-out activity that will require a lot of resources at Airbus. But these are human resources. It’s not a financial resource problem.”