CORONAVIRUS

Collins Aerospace president talks coronavirus, Boeing 737 MAX at aviation event

Steve Timm, head of avionics at Collins Aerospace, photographed in Cedar Rapids on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Liz Martin/The
Steve Timm, head of avionics at Collins Aerospace, photographed in Cedar Rapids on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Collins Aerospace’s suppliers in China are “back up to speed,” despite headwinds from the coronavirus outbreak in that country, the company’s new president, Steve Timm, said last week during the Aviation Summit in Washington, D.C.

“The aperture of potential impacts is quite broad,” Timm told CNBC reporter Phil LeBeau, during an onstage conversation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s annual event.

Employees of Collins Aerospace’s 70 suppliers in China were allowed to work remotely and it was ensured they had necessary equipment.

Collins Aerospace now is following that same “recipe” with suppliers and employees in other countries, such as Italy and South Korea, said Timm, who took over as president in February.

He described the virus as a “serious blip,” but not one he believes will disrupt the aerospace industry over the long term.

“I think we’re kind of in the middle of the water. We don’t know how big the lake is yet, and so our first real order of business is to control what we can control,” he said.

“The aviation industry has demonstrated adaptability over and over and over again when it comes to situations like this, and we’ll do it again.

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“There’s certainly not a company in the world that’s not impacted in Q1 or Q2 by corona,” he continued. ”We know that’s going to be the case, but back to control what you can control, that’s the way we’re approaching the problem today.”

Collins Aerospace’s parent company, United Technologies Corp., has suspended all business travel to or through China, Hong Kong, Macao, South Korea, Italy and Iran, and has instituted a 14-day waiting period before employees who have visited those regions, on business or personal trips, can return to work in the United States, Collins Aerospace spokeswoman Pam Tvrdy-Cleary said Monday.

In its guidance, first issued Jan. 29, UTC also recommended that employees defer all non-essential business travel to any destination, she said.

At the Aviation Summit, Timm also touched upon how Collins Aerospace has acted amid attempts by Boeing — one of its largest customers — to return its 737 MAX fleet to service, following two deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency have visited Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids at least twice since last fall in auditing Boeing’s proposed software fix for the 737 MAX, which has been grounded worldwide for nearly a year.

The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, software at issue in the crashes was designed by Boeing, with code built to Boeing’s specifications by then-Rockwell Collins.

UTC bought Rockwell Collins — now Collins Aerospace — in November 2018.

Timm said Collins Aerospace’s focus is on returning the 737 MAX to service as quickly as possible, but safely first.

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Asked about a prospective loss of orders expected from Boeing, he said Collins Aerospace has been able to manage.

“Being a larger company, we have lots of capabilities and positions on a variety of airplanes,” Timm said. “It’s given us the ability to repurpose people across those pieces of work. So from our point, so far, we’ve been able to maintain that supply base and readiness for ramp up.”

In discussing future protections for aerospace, Timm said the industry has been a pioneer for innovation both in the United States and globally.

“What’s truly exciting is, when I see the ingredients we have within the businesses that we have, not only in each of the six (Collins Aerospace business units) but what happens when you put them together. I’m really excited about the types of solutions that we’ll serve — connected, electric, autonomy — as well as doing it in a sustainable way.”

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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