Boeing in talks to buy struggling supplier Spirit AeroSystems


Boeing said Friday it was in talks to acquire Spirit AeroSystems, a struggling supplier the manufacturer spun off nearly two decades ago that makes bodies for the 737 Max plane.

By reabsorbing Spirit, Boeing would seek to rescue and restructure a troubled but important partner that has been hit by years of losses and quality control problems. Spirit's problems have also at times limited how quickly Boeing can produce Max planes, its most popular airliner.

Bringing back Spirit, one of the company's key suppliers, would be a significant strategic shift for Boeing, which has long relied on outsourcing to manufacture its planes. That strategy has come under increasing scrutiny amid concerns about Boeing's quality problems.

Both companies have faced intense scrutiny since Jan. 5, when a panel on a 737 Max 9 exploded during an Alaska Airlines flight shortly after takeoff, exposing passengers to deafening wind at 16,000 feet. The pilots operating the plane landed it safely and no serious injuries were reported. Experts say the episode could have been catastrophic if it had occurred at a higher altitude with passengers moving around the cabin.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a report last month that the plane appeared to have left a Boeing factory without the necessary bolts to hold the panel, known as a door plug, in place. Door plugs are used to cover gaps in the body of an aircraft where an emergency exit would have been installed if the aircraft had the maximum number of seats.

Acquiring Spirit could give Boeing the ability to more easily change the supplier's production policies and practices, something it has been trying to do for a few years. Continued problems with quality and operations led to a leadership shakeup at Spirit last fall. Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing employee and senior Defense Department official, took over as CEO of Spirit.

But buying Spirit could also saddle Boeing with more problems at more factories at a time when regulators are demanding it improve quality control at its own plants.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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