Montaudran, La Roseraie, Wichita – Spirit AeroSystems is interested in Latécoère. Should we worry?

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It is rather unlikely that Spirit Aerosystems CEO Jeff Turner reads the French regional press – fortunately. Otherwise he might be offended to see his company equated here or there with “just anyone.” Spirit, the world leader among first-tier aerospace structure suppliers, has made news in the French press recently due to its keen interest in Latécoère.

Clearly, the idea frightens some people in Toulouse and elicits comments that are all the more surprising in that they totally contradict globalization objectives pursued by the major players, with EADS in the lead. On the one hand, there has long been unanimous acceptance of French industrial locations in far-away places, for example, establishment of Dassault Aviation’s business-jet branch in Little Rock, Arkansas, Eurocopter’s set up in Grand Prairie, Texas, or Safran’s facilities in various US locations. And no one over here balks at the major EADS/Airbus project that would involve the installation of a KC-45/A330-200F final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama, should EADS win the Pentagon’s tanker contract. On the other hand, the idea of Spirit coming to Toulouse awakens old phobias and double standards.

Pundits and elected officials in southwest France have short memories. Apparently they have already forgotten that inaugurated a 5378 m² plant at Saint-Nazaire to produce major sub-assemblies for the A350XWB just last year Spirit. This is not the first European facility set up by the young US company (created in 2005) which participates in most of the Airbus programs. We can understand the company’s determination to move closer to the European manufacturer, since its strategy is based on diversifying its clientele. Spirit was a spin-off from Boeing and in no case wants to depend on the former owner of the premises. This raises the possibility of evoking an unexpected and historic triangle connecting Montaudran, La Roseraie and Wichita.

In fact it was at the Montaudran site, in the southeastern sector of Toulouse, that Pierre-Georges Latécoère began his aeronautics business, nearly a century ago. Today, the company has its headquarters in the La Roseraie district, near the city center, and its business has become a global player, with major contracts from around the world – including from Seattle. The city of Wichita, which refers to itself as the “Air Capital of the World,” having produced a quarter million airplanes since 1920 (with an emphasis on light aircraft), also has a compelling aeronautics story to tell. It was here in the middle of Kansas that Stearman was created, acquired by Boeing in 1929. Its impressive plants produced, thousands of awe-inspiring B-29, B-47, and B-52 bombers, before returning to mainly commercial production. Other manufacturers grew up there, including Cessna, Beech, and Learjet.

Boeing, as we know, has chosen to lean out its organization, and entrust an important share of work to subcontractors/partners, even if they have to create them from the ground up. Spirit itself was created this way and five years later is successfully independent. At the same time, Latécoère, battered by the recession, has been unable to complete a major acquisition and now finds itself in a delicate situation. The company has an excellent image, a strong backlog of orders, and an increasingly diversified clientele. But it needs a powerful partner – which could be Spirit.

The idea of an American partner should not arouse any old demons. Opposing such a partnership can only serve to defend a one-way globalization policy,. In southwest France, it should be sufficient to point out Ratier’s discreet example. How many people have forgotten that this little gem of French industry has belonged to Hamilton Sundstrand for quite some time? This does not prevent the town of Figeac from enjoying the economic benefits.

It is certainly unnecessary at this early stage of the game to underline Spirit’s strong points or to promote it in any way. Rather, a reality check is called for among local officials, who are worried enough to turn to Christian Estrosi, at the Ministry of Industry, to request its intervention and/or protection. Such an attitude is unwarranted, astonishing, and even disappointing. That’s why we hope that Jeff Turner hasn’t heard about it.
Pierre Sparaco – AeroMorning
Translated by Tim Bowler

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