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Triumph Composite Systems closing Airway Heights factory in 2022

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 28, 2021

A worker is shown under a Boeing 737 Max jet in Renton, Wash., on Dec. 16, 2019. Triumph Composite Systems, of Spokane, which builds components for the airplane, has announced it will close its Airway Heights facility in 2022.  (Associated Press )
A worker is shown under a Boeing 737 Max jet in Renton, Wash., on Dec. 16, 2019. Triumph Composite Systems, of Spokane, which builds components for the airplane, has announced it will close its Airway Heights facility in 2022. (Associated Press )
By Thomas Clouse The Spokesman-Reivew

Triumph Composite Systems  plans to close its airplane parts factory in Airway Heights during the summer of 2022 amid financial turmoil in the aerospace industry.

The closure is expected to affect more than 130 jobs for the company, which built components for Boeing jets.

“Due to significant production rate reductions to our core business and the impact of COVID-19 on the commercial aviation market and travel industry, we have reached a point where it is no longer viable for Triumph to continue” at the local factory, company spokesman Abe Kim wrote in a statement. The company “therefore made the difficult decision to start the process of closing the site.”

As recently as 2017, Triumph had employed as many as 600 workers in Airway Heights. The employees made floor panels and ducting for airplanes. In the summer of 2020, the company laid off about 22 workers. 

“We realize this is a sensitive topic and may have a profound effect on our employees, their families, and the surrounding community,” Kim wrote. “We are committed to providing as much notice as possible and working with employees to provide resources that help to minimize the impact of the site closure and identify future employment opportunities.”

The company said it will be working over the next several months to fulfill previous contracts. 

Sen. Patty Murray said her heart goes out to the Triumph employees “who got this awful news today.

“This is an incredibly difficult time,” Murray wrote in a statement. “I will continue doing all I can at the federal level to make sure people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own during this pandemic get the support they need to make it through.”

Rick Taylor, vice president of Altek Inc., of Liberty Lake, said he had heard that Triumph had been struggling. 

“That whole industry is hurting,” Taylor said. Taylor’s company had been manufacturing window-shade assemblies, power supply housings and proximity switches for the Boeing’s troubled 737 Max. 

“We are in the same boat,” Taylor said. “We’ve had to pivot to different industries. I don’t expect commercial aircraft work to come back to us in any numbers until 2024. There is so much inventory out there and the general public is not flying, and they won’t be flying anytime soon.” 

The union workers at Triumph are represented by International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751. District president Jon Holden said in a statement he believed Triumph’s closing is the wrong decision.

“While COVID is one of the circumstances that may have led to this decision, unfortunately, Triumph built factories in Mexico where they’ve sent a large portion of the Spokane plant’s work over the last 7-8 years,” Holden wrote. “At the same time, our members worked hard to ensure this factory was profitable.”

The union has received no details about how the reduction in force will take place. IAM District 751 had already secured a Trade Adjustment Assistance Petition, which provides additional training and unemployment resources all employees who lose their jobs from the closure.

Holden added that union workers had acquired new skills and adapted to new technology at Triumph to help the company thrive. 

“It is disappointing the company has not shown the same loyalty to our membership and to the community that we live in,” he wrote. “We will continue working to support our members impacted by this decision.”

Mark Norton, chairman of the Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium, said both tier one manufacturers, or those who sell components like fuselages directly to Boeing, and tier two manufacturers, or those like Triumph that sell parts to companies that then sell to Boeing, continue to struggle during the pandemic.

“That sector is not coming back as quickly,” Norton said of the tier two manufacturers. “(Triumph officials) are not the first and won’t be the last” to close.

Other manufacturers have been able to pivot to other markets that don’t deal with aerospace, Norton said.

Taylor, with Altek, said his company has done the same. Altek had been working to develop lower-cost alternatives for making aircraft seats. That work has slowed, but will continue.

However, his company recently landed a contract for touchless faucets and is working on another for touchless soap dispensers for aircrafts, which both have more urgency during the pandemic, he said.

“That one (contract) kind of fell out of the sky and hit us in the head,” Taylor said. “We were just fortunate that that came our way.”

He said any company like Triumph and Altek, which were making products for commercial aerospace in 2019, is now struggling.

“That holds true for Airbus, as well,” he said. “The (737) Max really hurt Boeing. But that was prior to COVID. The Max and COVID was a double whammy for Boeing.”

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