Onward and upward for Morocco’s aerospace sector

Stephen Orr, Vice President and General Manager, Spirit AeroSystems Morocco, is enthusiastic about the potential in Morocco’s vibrant aeronautics industry.

Follow by Email

Spirit AeroSystems, the world’s largest tier-1 aerostructures manufacturer, acquired Bombardier’s manufacturing site in Casablanca almost two years ago. What role do you see the Moroccan site playing in the company’s operations?


The overall acquisition of Bombardier’s aerostructures and after-market businesses in Morocco, Northern Ireland and the U.S., was quite transformative for Spirit. It strengthened its position as a tier-1 supplier in the global commercial aerospace industry but also, more importantly, diversified its portfolio and brought more Airbus content to Spirit. It provided additional regional- and business-jet work packages to Spirit, as well as significantly increasing its after-market business. From that perspective, it was quite important. With the acquisition of the Casablanca site, Spirit became a bigger player in business and regional jets.


Casablanca has many Bombardier work packages, but it also has significant capability in nacelles, flight controls and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) services. It’s a world-class facility and it’s very key for Spirit in helping the company to be competitive. The Morocco facility provides Spirit with a highly competitive aerostructures base, which complements its other facilities in the U.K., France, Asia and the U.S.


Recently, we started production of the aft and forward sections of the mid-fuselage for the Airbus A220, which marks a big step forward for the country as these are complete fuselage sections, which had not previously been manufactured in Morocco or, indeed, in Africa.

What has been your experience of managing a company like Spirit in Morocco?


I’ve actually been here for almost nine years, including the last couple of years where the company has been under the ownership of Spirit. My experience has been really good and, as I tell everyone, that’s due to our employees who are extremely competent and skilled. There’s a good availability of talented and well-educated employees on the marketplace. We also develop a lot of our employees internally.


With Spirit, we’ve seen quite a progression in terms of taking a more strategic approach to the type of work packages coming to Morocco. We’ve finished our site extension and that will allow us to expand our fuselage work packages. It’s been very interesting over the last two years, and I think it will be even more interesting over the next five, in terms of how we develop the site and our capabilities.



Can you tell us more about the workforce in Morocco?


We’ve never struggled to recruit very educated and motivated people. Morocco does have a significant skilled talent pool with high potential for development. I’m the only person who is non-Moroccan on site and that has been the case now for several years. Everybody who has moved into leadership roles has developed internally. They were recruited initially for, let’s say, shop-floor activities, but have availed themselves of training and development opportunities to progress into middle-management roles and, indeed, into functional support roles as well, like methodology, quality and logistics.


We recruit staff at a well-qualified level initially and they then undertake a three-month training program at Institut des métiers aéronautques. The pass rate is normally at about 80 percent and the ones that get through end up being very successful. Today, we have over 300 highly skilled employees and, over the next five years, that number will be in excess of 1,000. That’s not a big concern, because Morocco has a significant, young and skilled talent pool with high potential for development and I know we’ll find the right people.


Within Spirit, we’re committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce. This includes having more women in the pipeline for leadership positions. We have built a strategy to attain, attract and engage talent and that will drive meaningful action to enable us to strengthen and sustain an equitable workforce and an inclusive environment. It’s very important to Spirit and I think the actions that we are taking on driving inclusivity and diversity certainly reflect that.



What philosophy underpins your management style?


I think our employees would probably be better placed to talk about my management style! When I first came here, I would have been a little more directive: trying to get things organized, trying to create basic processes and principles of how we would operate, and trying to embed into people how necessary it is to create and then follow good processes. Obviously, the work ethic was always good in Morocco.


When you’re dealing in aerospace, it’s important to follow processes, understand what the quality standards need to be for the customer—and then to achieve those quality standards, which we have done. When we were part of Bombardier, and now as part of Spirit, we have always regarded ourselves as a benchmark for performance. People talk about low-cost. I really don’t like that tag being attached to Morocco. It’s not low cost, it’s best cost. What we have is world-class performance with a low cost relative to the quality delivered. Best cost is our mantra

“Morocco makes a lot of sense for the global aerospace industry at the moment. People are looking to shorten supply chains or lower costs and Morocco ticks a lot of boxes in terms of its well-established presence and performance.”

Over the next five years, what do you most hope to achieve at Spirit?


We’ve just started producing complete sections of fuselage for the A220 and we’ll continue to work with Airbus and other manufacturers to explore opportunities to grow our business here. We’re also planning on growing our after-market business and have already started to develop MRO activity on site.



As a seasoned global aerospace industry professional, how would you summarize Morocco’s role in the future of the global aviation industry?


I think Morocco’s role is becoming more and more important. We have over 140 aerospace businesses here now and, more significantly, it seems like every week we have new companies coming to visit, to see, to explore what’s happening in Morocco. This is a really good sign: when people physically come to a country to see what’s happening, it shows that they’re very interested. I can honestly say that I’ve never met anyone who has come to Morocco to look at our aerospace sector and been disappointed. The reaction is always, “Wow, we didn’t realize it was quite so good, so well developed!”


There’s a wide range of people who visit from original equipment manufacturers and engine manufacturers as well, all the way down to tier-4 suppliers, so it covers the full range of the supply base. But they’re always extremely excited and surprised by what they see. There’s huge interest and regularly, throughout the year, there’ll be new companies actually establishing themselves here in Morocco.


It’s very vibrant and Morocco makes a lot of sense for the global aerospace industry at the moment. People are looking to shorten supply chains or lower costs and Morocco ticks a lot of boxes in terms of its well-established presence and performance. Boeing, Airbus and other major players are investing more and more in Morocco, because it’s giving them what they want in the current post-pandemic climate.



Do you have any final comments for the readers of Newsweek?


In all my previous experience, including as a vice president of quality, I’ve always had a global role. I’ve seen plenty of suppliers and many countries’ aerospace industries; but I’ve never seen anything as well coordinated and as effective as what’s happening in Morocco. I think performance here is taken extremely seriously by the government and there’s substantial government support for the sector. I honestly believe that companies considering investing in Morocco should do so. If you’re looking for a best-cost solution, Morocco should be on your list and you should certainly plan a visit. And once you see it for yourself, I think you’ll be convinced.