The dark, gloomy days that followed Sept. 11,
2001, had many wondering if the clouds would ever lift.
Economic turmoil and the sharp downturn in
aerospace orders meant parts suppliers to the industry had to
reassess their production schedules, with many concluding that
cutbacks, or at least some significant realignment of their
operations, was unavoidable.
But as fears of more terrorist attacks and
economic ruin faded-helped by new measures to make highjacking
commercial aircraft far harder to accomplish-new optimism
emerged, and within just a few short years, it seemed, everyone
was flying again.
For Alcoa Inc., one of the world's largest
suppliers of fasteners for the aerospace industry, the rebound
was a double-edged sword. Orders were returning, and quickly,
but only after it had already adjusted production levels to
reflect a depressed aerospace sector. It was difficult to keep
up with the requirements coming from Boeing Co., Chicago, and
other airplane manufacturers that were busily racking up sales
for their latest plane models.
Given industry projections that the world
aircraft fleet is expected to more than double by 2024, thanks
primarily to emerging markets in China, India and the Middle
East, meeting demand will be a challenge that won't go
Pittsburgh-based Alcoa supplies more than 1
million fasteners for every Airbus 380 and Boeing 787
produced-the two biggest stars in world aviation right now.
It's an incredibly complex product segment, involving a broad
array of specialty-engineered fastening systems ranging from
high-strength fasteners for both airframe and engine
applications to very complex latches, installation tool systems
and such machine components as hydraulic fittings. Fulfilling
demand is made even more difficult given the limited amount of
skilled labor available to do the work on some specific
Fasteners account for about 25 percent of
Alcoa's aerospace revenue, making it a critical part of the
aluminum producer's bottom line. The company is believed to
have cut about 40 percent of its fastener work force in the
days that followed the terrorist attacks on New York and
Washington. In recent months, it's been busily replenishing
this lost capacity while expanding its fastener product
In March, Alcoa acquired two Newbury Park,
Calif., aerospace fastener manufacturers Republic Fastener
Manufacturing Corp. and Van Petty Manufacturing Co. Bought from
the Wood Family Trust for an undisclosed amount, the two
companies employ a combined 240 people.
Republic Fastener makes aerospace fastener
locknut products while Van Petty makes high-performance
precision aerospace fasteners used primarily by engine and
The two companies produce fasteners that were
not being made by Alcoa, a company spokesman said.
"They are complementary businesses to our
existing aerospace portfolio," he said. "It is our goal to grow
For that reason, the acquisitions don't
resolve one of the critical problems facing fastener producers
a shortage of skilled labor. But the acquisitions will help
Alcoa Fastening Systems become a broader supplier.
That's important, because by 2009 Alcoa
expects the aerospace fastener market to have grown 30 percent
from 2006 levels, according to a recent industry presentation
given by Olivier M. Jarrault, president of Alcoa Fastening
Headquartered in Torrance, Calif., Alcoa
Fastening Systems operates 15 manufacturing plants and is
adding new production capacity in China, Mexico and Hungary. At
the same time, the company is consolidating manufacturing sites
and reducing the complexity of its manufacturing
"We are adding capacity in a number of
different places across the globe," the spokesman said. "This
is a market that's growing very strongly and we want to be in a
position where we can help our customers please their
customers. And in order to do that, all we have to do is make
more fasteners and make the right ones and get them there on
As for the current U.S. economic downturn,
Alcoa appears to have little concern that demand for fasteners
is headed for a crash landing.
"We have seen the terrible things that
happened after Sept. 11," Alcoa's spokesman said. "The market
has grown steadily since then and is projected to continue to
grow, and even if it were to scale back slightly it would still
be growing very strongly."
Executives from Precision Castparts Corp.,
the other major U.S. manufacturer of aerospace fasteners,
refused to comment for this article.
However, the Portland, Ore.-based company
said in its earnings report for the quarter ended Dec. 30,
2007, that its aerospace fastener sales grew 40 percent from a
year earlier, although that included new revenue generated from
its acquisition of Cherry Aerospace earlier in 2007.
Like Alcoa, Precision Castparts is
positioning itself to take advantage of strong demand.
"Fastener Products is seizing additional
opportunities on every front increased volumes, share gains and
qualification of new part families," the company said in its