Manufacturing Shutdowns Cascade To Affect Wichita’s OEMs

With work stoppages at Boeing and Bombardier, Kansas manufacturers implement furloughs.

Wichita, Kansas
The city of Wichita, Kansas, has hosted the aviation industry for decades, through large, cyclical changes in the market.Textron Aviation

The Coronavirus may be taking its time to mark a significant number of confirmed cases in the midwestern US, but the aviation manufacturing industry in Wichita, Kansas, is already suffering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on its workforce. Manufacturers, including Textron Aviation, Bombardier, and Spirit AeroSystems, have seen the effects—and express hope that the unfortunate-yet-prompt action will help stop the spread of the virus.

At Textron Aviation, a “rolling furlough” covering eight weeks total was announced on March 18, affecting most of the company’s Wichita-based workers, though no specific number has been officially released. The staggered layoff plan includes a four-week furlough for each employee, fashioned in a series of time periods between March 23 and May 29. “Deliveries continue during this time; however, the company is taking increased precautions to prioritize the health and safety of our employees and customers,” according to company spokesperson Sarah White.

Wichita’s Bombardier Learjet manufacturing is feeling the downstream effects as well. As reported in the New York Times, parent company Bombardier announced on March 24 that it had halted operations at much of its Canadian facilities. Workers would return on April 26, at the earliest. The furlough affects 12,400 employees directly in Quebec and Ontario—with additional workers expected to have activities suspended in Wichita. Bombardier has made the decision in response to the Canadian and province governmental mandates to cease all non-essential business in order to help stop the spread of the virus.

Boeing’s need to halt operations at its Seattle facilities—because of the virus’ spread—has sparked additional grief for Spirit AeroSystems, which had already seen layoffs of 2,800 employees a couple of months ago as the result of work stoppage on the 737 Max. According to kansas.com, Spirit announced on March 24 that it would suspend work on its Boeing contracts for a two-week period beginning on March 25 and continuing through April 8. The company would use the time to deep-clean its facilities, and workers would be paid for the two-week period. After that, the company does not speculate on its next actions, other than to say they depend on what Boeing does.