On March 15, four days before Lawson's appointment was announced, Airbus officials were sidestepping rumors that the company was considering buying out Spirit's Saint Nazaire assembly facility in France to keep it from becoming an A350 bottleneck. Kinston ships composite fuselage panels to Saint Nazaire for assembly before they are sent to Toulouse.
Airbus says it “works constantly with all of its suppliers, offering them support to avoid any critical delay on the A350 program. The discussions with Spirit fit in this context.”
For its part, Spirit says, “we don't speculate on any business transactions that have not been announced, and we don't have anything to announce at this time.”
To this drama, Lawson brings a well-regarded reputation in high-rate aerostructures manufacturing, says Rubel. It's one of “fostering good relations with large, sophisticated customers.”
As the F-22 program manager, Lawson negotiated key production contracts with the U.S. Air Force. He leaves during a time of transition for the F-35, with a greater emphasis on program execution and less on selling the fighter within the U.S. and abroad. The Pentagon has been critical of overhead at Lockheed and, specifically, how those costs affect the Aeronautics unit's programs.
With Lockheed Martin tapping Marillyn Hewson as CEO, Lawson is moving on at a relatively young age—55—to tackle the challenges of a CEO at Spirit.
Spirit is not the first commercial aircraft maker to look for management from a defense expert. Boeing, struggling with a chronically late 787 supply chain in the late 2000s, tapped its own defense unit for Jim Albaugh as CEO at Commercial Airplanes and Pat Shanahan as the 787 general manager.
And Airbus is not the first prime contractor to consider taking over an operation from a supplier. During the time it was realigning its 787 management team in Seattle, Boeing also struggled with two key suppliers that were overwhelmed with having to manage a purpose-built fuselage integration factory in North Charleston, S.C. So Boeing bought Alenia and Vought out of that operation to save the 787 program.
Name: Larry A. Lawson