Analysis: Labor issues continue to challenge aerospace industry

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By Bryan Corliss

Sept. 18, 2023, © Leeham News – One of the continuing themes we’re hearing – at investor presentations and on quarterly earnings calls – is the shortage of skilled labor, which is disrupting deliveries up and down the aerospace industry supply chain.

The inability of suppliers to deliver parts on time – or to deliver correctly assembled parts – is hampering the OEMs as they attempt to ramp up production to meet high demand from airlines.

This is not just an issue affecting aerospace. There’s a general shortage of medium- and high-skill workers in the Western world right now, with shortages of every kind of worker from line cooks to truck drivers. Shortages existed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and there’s still strong demand, even with economies slowing as central banks move to tamp down inflation. 

The issue is more pronounced in industries that rely on high-skill workers – like aerospace.

One outcome of this worker shortage is a rise in union activism. In aerospace, we’ve seen the strike by the International Association of Machinists against Spirit AeroSystems this summer, and the near strike by members of the same union against Boeing’s defense business in and around St. Louis last year.

Next year, both Spirit and Boeing will be back at the bargaining table; Spirit to negotiate with members of SPEEA, the union for aerospace engineers, while Boeing holds talks with IAM District 751, which represents hourly workers at the company’s plants in Puget Sound and Oregon. 

IAM 751, in fact, is urging members to prepare for what it’s describing as a September 2024 contract vote that will “forever change the aerospace industry.” 

The environment seems to be favorable to the unions, for reasons we’ve discussed before. However, with the OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers heavily in debt (and currently bleeding red ink), there’s going to be a limit to what the companies will be willing to offer in a bid to satisfy their labor forces.

  • Demand for workers remains strong
  • Lack of skilled labor is hurting industry
  • Boeing, Spirit aren’t strong financially
  • UAW strike bellwether for next year’s talks

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GE Aero sees growth through 2026, despite supply chain snags

By Bryan Corliss

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Sept. 15, 2023, © Leeham News – Demand for aircraft engines and spare parts will continue to grow in 2025-26, but perhaps at a slower rate than what the industry is currently experiencing, the CFO of GE Aerospace said at an investor conference Thursday.

“Clearly the demand is robust,” Rahul Gai, who is CFO of both GE and GE Aerospace, told investors gathered at Morgan Stanley’s annual Laguna Conference. “We are trying to ensure we meet the demand expectations.” 

GE Aero plans to deliver some 2,000 LEAP engines next year, which is up from this year’s projected total of 1,700, he said. This comes even as the company continues to deal with supply chain constraints caused in part by a lack of skilled labor. 

  • GE Aero and Vernova on track for two-company split
  • Chinese recovery driving 2023 growth
  • GE sending engineers to help its suppliers

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Pontifications: Moonshot for engines for Next Boeing Airplane may have to wait

By Scott Hamilton

Sept. 12, 2023, © Leeham News: The Next Boeing Airplane (NBA) may be a moonshot for CEO David Calhoun, but airlines will probably be reluctant to take a moonshot on the next new engine.

Service issues with the CFM LEAP and Pratt & Whitney GTF engines are driving airlines batty. The failures of the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 years after entry-into-service (EIS) cost RR hundreds and millions of dollars and a confidence crisis that hurt future sales. LEAP engines are coming off wing well before initial forecasts. Every aircraft model using the GTF faced groundings as engine failures piled up.

Boeing sorely needs a successor to the 737, now in its 55th year and fourth iteration. Ron Epstein, the aerospace analyst for Bank of America, was biting in a Sept. 7 research note.

Flying a Boeing 737 is like driving a ‘68 Chevy Impala with a semi-modern dash.

 “We note that Boeing continues to ride on the coattails of its past glory. The original Boeing 737 prototype first flew in April 1967, entering service less than a year later in February 1968 with Lufthansa. Fifty-five years later, the 737 airframe remains in service through a multitude of derivative models, including the most recent 737 MAX,” he wrote.

“However, we note that the model was never intended to be such a blockbuster long-term solution. Instead, the 737 was expected to be a band-aid for the Boeing portfolio to compete with the market share-winning DC-9. The Boeing fleet lacked a smaller narrowbody model to complement the company’s larger jets, like the 707. In the spirit of the General Motors model, the 737 was intended to be the ‘cheap Chevy’ of the portfolio. Fledgling carriers would operate the cheaper model before upgrading to Boeing’s large, higher-end products like the 707 and, later, the 747, which one could see as the ‘Cadillacs’ of the portfolio.

“In our view, while the longevity of the 737 is impressive, the aircraft is now a bit of an anachronism. Operating the aircraft is like driving around in a 1968 Chevy Impala with a semi-modern dashboard. It is important to note that the 737 is the only currently manufactured commercial aircraft without fly-by-wire controls, which are a staple in modern aircraft control system design.”

Epstein worked for Boeing from 1995 to 1999 as an Applied Research Scientist. He’s a technical advisor to United Airlines for the alternative energy sector.

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United selects GEnx for order for 100 787s

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By Scott Hamilton

Aug. 14, 2023, © Leeham News: United Airlines quietly selected GE engines for its order in December last year for 100 Boeing 787-9s, according to Boeing’s website. The order isn’t finalized and neither GE nor United would comment.

There had been speculation that UAL might order Rolls-Royce engines as a mitigation for cancelling 45 Airbus A350-900s, which is powered exclusively by RR. United repeatedly deferred delivery of the A350s, which were ordered by previous managements. United inherited a large order for 787s when it merged with Continental Airlines and placed repeat orders for the 787 after the merger. The A350s essentially are duplicative to the 787s.

United placed large orders for the Airbus A321neo at a time when Boeing at first dithered whether to launch the New Midmarket Aircraft. UAL added to the neo order during the time when Boeing was unable to pursue any new airplane program due to the extended grounding of the MAX and during the COVID pandemic.

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Pontifications: NASA pulls the plug on electric airplanes

Some odds and ends after three weeks on the road.

  • NASA pulls the plug on electric airplane research.
  • NASA and Boeing’s Transonic Truss Brace Wing contract.
  • Engines and the TTBW.

July 18, 2023, © Leeham News: When NASA gives up on a project, it’s time for others to take notice.

By Scott Hamilton

The agency is best known for space travel. But it funds and undertakes research and development for aeronautics, including commercial aviation. NASA, after all, is the acronym for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Boeing, and Airbus, benefitted from NASA research in the past. NASA currently is working with Boeing on the transonic truss brace wing concept (TTBW) that could redefine how airplanes are designed and look as early as the end of this decade.

So, what has NASA abandoned? Late last month, the agency pulled the plug on the X-57 electric airplane before the first flight. NASA concluded that the electric and battery technology for the X-57, a small airplane, is too dangerous. NASA wouldn’t even authorize test flights.

It’s worth noting that LNA’s Bjorn Fehrm, an aerospace engineer, called bullshit on electric airplanes in his first of a series of articles way back on June 30, 2017. Billions of dollars have funded some 200 companies pursuing electric airplanes. This is money that could have been invested in expanding production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, the leading alternative of alternative energy projects.

The current, continued frenzy over alternative energy vehicles is like the 1990s dot com frenzy. And just as the dot com boom went bust, the day is coming soon when the alternative energy book will go bust, too.

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Boeing, GE optimistic for return to normalcy with China

By Scott Hamilton

Larry Culp, CEO of GE Aerospace. Credit: GE.

June 20, 2023, © Leeham News: Relations between the US and China remained strained, beginning with the Trump Administration’s trade war initiated in 2017—which continues under the Biden Administration.

The strain has been exacerbated by China’s tilt toward Russia during the Russian-Ukraine war. Except for a brief meeting at this year’s G7 meeting between President Xi and President Biden, there has been little in the way of top-level diplomatic contact until this week. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Xi this week, leading to optimism by Boeing and GE Aerospace that relations between the US and China may be thawing.

During executive media briefings surrounding this week’s Paris Air Show, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal and GE Aerospace CEO Larry Culp gave their outlooks about the near-term future.

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