1 Feb 24

Elevating Supplier Management: A Strategic Imperative for Boeing and the Aviation Industry

Elevating Supplier Management: A Strategic Imperative for Boeing and the Aviation Industry

Boeing's foray into the 737 MAX series was envisioned as groundbreaking, promising fuel efficiency and advanced technology. However, the series became synonymous with crisis, marked by tragic accidents and revelations of critical flaws in the aircraft's design. The 737 MAX crisis not only led to a reassessment of Boeing's internal processes but also highlighted the intricate relationship between the aerospace giant and its suppliers, particularly Spirit AeroSystems. 


The most recent crisis event

In a recent incident reported by Reuters, Spirit AeroSystems manufactured and initially installed the fuselage part on a Boeing 737 MAX 9 that suffered a blowout during a U.S. flight. The incident prompted regulators to ground most Boeing 737 MAX 9s for safety checks. The complex, two-tier installation process involving Spirit's fuselage plant in Kansas and Boeing's completion process in Washington adds a new layer of scrutiny to the ongoing investigation.

The incident involving the eight-week-old Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9, carrying passengers and crew members, saw the loss of a door-replacement panel, resulting in a gaping hole in the aircraft's side. The aircraft managed to land safely, but the event triggered safety concerns, leading regulators to ground most 737 MAX 9s for thorough safety inspections.

The complex installation process, involving semi-rigged fuselages and the removal and reinstallation of non-functioning parts, has raised questions about the incident's root cause. Investigators are expected to examine whether any flaws occurred at Spirit's fuselage plant or Boeing's factory, presenting challenges in pinpointing the source of any assembly issues.

This incident underscores the intricate processes involved in aircraft manufacturing and completion. The collaboration between Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, while essential, adds layers of complexity to the investigation. As regulators and industry experts delve into the details, the focus remains on ensuring the safety and reliability of aircraft, emphasising the importance of rigorous inspections and adherence to industry standards.


Supplier Management and the impact on the process

Boeing's challenges offer a crucial opportunity for the aerospace industry to reflect on the significance of robust supplier management practices. A fundamental aspect of effective supplier management is transparency and comprehensive oversight. A lack of these elements in Boeing’s supplier management practices has caused key problems, which are further compounded by a failure to diversify suppliers.

Reports from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg highlighted Boeing's oversight failures and the risks associated with overreliance on specific suppliers. The failures in Boeing’s risk management processes made spotting risks of particular components and manufacturing practices that much harder and has left Boeing wide open for the type of catastrophic failure that we’ve seen. Added to that, Boeing's failure to diversify its supplier networks left the company vulnerable to disruptions, amplifying the impact of issues within Spirit AeroSystems.


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What could Boeing have done differently?

At State of Flux we advocate supplier management practices that, if adopted by Boeing, could have potentially mitigated the challenges faced with Spirit AeroSystems.

The aerospace industry, including Boeing, needs to prioritise transparent communication, thorough oversight, and the adoption of tools and technologies for better visibility across the supply chain. Proactive risk mitigation strategies, collaboration with suppliers, and the use of predictive analytics and AI are essential to prevent catastrophic consequences.

The overreliance on a single supplier proved to be a vulnerability for Boeing. Diversifying supplier networks is not only a risk mitigation strategy but also a resilience-building measure. Boeing should actively seek partnerships with a diverse array of suppliers, distributing critical components among multiple entities. This approach can safeguard against disruptions and ensure a more resilient supply chain.

As Boeing and its industry counterparts grapple with the complexities of supplier management, these incidents underscore the need for continual improvement and adaptability. The aerospace sector must not only meet regulatory standards but exceed them, embracing a culture of safety, collaboration, and transparency.

In this journey toward a safer future for aerospace, the lessons learned from the 737 MAX crisis and the recent incident with the 737 MAX 9 serve as beacons of change. By implementing robust supplier management practices, fostering collaborative relationships, and prioritising safety above all else, the aerospace industry can elevate its standards and regain the trust of passengers worldwide. The sky is vast, and as the industry propels itself forward, the commitment to excellence in supplier management becomes a non-negotiable pillar in ensuring the continued success and safety of air travel.


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AuthorJoel Saunders is the Commercial Director at State of Flux based in London.