A global leader in jet engine production, GE Aviation has invested nearly $250 million in upgrades of its operations across North Carolina during the past five years – including one the company says is transforming the commercial jet industry.
Responding to demand for jet engines and aircraft systems, GE Aviation improved all four of its North Carolina manufacturing and assembly plants, which together employ nearly 1,700 people and play a key role in production of the record-selling CFM LEAP jet engine.
Whether it’s improving infrastructure, partnering in an advanced training program or other assistance to launch something new – North Carolina always steps up. – Colleen Athans, GE Aviation
The centerpiece of the company’s upgrades is a new 170,000-square-foot plant in Asheville, one of the first in the world using new technology to mass produce ceramic matrix composite (CMC) components for LEAP and other jet engines. The ultra-lightweight components are one-third the weight of the metal parts they replace, while handing temperatures more than 500 degrees hotter, which means better jet performance and lower costs.
With more than 80 facilities around the world, GE Aviation chose North Carolina as home for its breakthrough technology for three key reasons: The state’s nimble manufacturing workforce, desirable quality of life, and business-friendly environment that have helped fuel the company’s success for more than three decades.
“The state and local communities in North Carolina value GE Aviation, and we value them. We appreciate the consistent support we receive for our initiatives to advance our operations,” said Colleen Athans, vice president and general manager of GE Aviation’s global supply chain. “Whether it’s improving infrastructure, partnering in an advanced training program or other assistance to launch something new – North Carolina always steps up.”
“It’s a relationship where everybody wins,’’ said David Spratley, vice president for business recruitment at the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, which links new and expanding companies with resources to establish and grow their businesses in the state. “North Carolina gained good jobs, investment and a committed corporate citizen in GE Aviation, and GE Aviation gained a reliable partner and a great place to live and work.”
North Carolina joined GE Aviation on the ground floor of a new technology that is changing aviation.- Colleen Athans, GE Aviation global supply chain vice president and general manager
GE Aviation’s new CMC plant makes turbine shrouds, part of the LEAP engine that entered airline service in 2016. The engine was developed by CFM International, a joint company of GE and Safran Aircraft Engines of France, and powers the new Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and China’s COMAC C919.
“We’re making new generation engines for new generation aircraft right here in North Carolina,” said Michael Meguiar, Asheville plant manager.
To increase capacity and fulfill a backlog of orders for engines, GE Aviation also upgraded plants and equipment at its machining facilities in Wilmington and West Jefferson and its engine assembly operation in Durham.
Athans, who ran the Durham operation earlier in her career, cites several attributes that make North Carolina a strategic investment:
- Skilled Workforce. Workers steeped in manufacturing drive GE Aviation’s production, and have seamlessly adapted to new technology and methods. The North Carolina Community College System, the nation’s third largest, partners with all four of the company’s plants, offering customized training and providing a pipeline of talent.
- Talent Recruitment. North Carolina delivers a steady flow of talent, thanks to its population growth and military veterans with aviation training and aptitude. “Asheville is a highly desirable area,” said Meguiar. “We are seeing great success recruiting the best talent to GE Aviation as we continue growing our site.”
- Supply Chain. The company leverages the proximity of its facilities to maximize efficiency, with components and machining plants shipping products to the Durham facility for assembly. The company’s presence also has prompted suppliers to establish their own operations in North Carolina, shortening the supply chain for GE Aviation.
- Partnerships. GE Aviation worked closely with state business recruiters now housed at the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina and with the N.C. Department of Commerce to secure its Asheville location and investments in existing facilities. The state, along with local governments and other partners, provided technical support and job-creation incentives to ensure a smooth start-up and successful upgrades.
The state’s economic development strategy focuses as much on helping existing companies grow as it does on recruiting new businesses. “In this case,” said Athans, “North Carolina joined GE Aviation on the ground floor of a new technology that is changing aviation.”
North Carolina workers have roots in manufacturing. We regularly have multigenerational workers, as sons and daughters follow their parents to make a career here.- Jason Swinny, GE Aviation Wilmington site leader
GE Aviation, part of GE, arrived in North Carolina in 1981. The company built a machining plant on the campus of GE Hitachi’s Nuclear Energy facility in Wilmington, which has expanded several times to its current 600,000 square feet and 650 employees.
The plant makes rotating hardware for LEAP and other engines. In the past two years, GE has invested $60 million to upgrade the building and equipment.
“We’re 10 miles from the beach. We offer good pay and benefits. So people want to work here,” said Jason Swinny, GE Aviation’s Wilmington site leader. “A lot of folks come through training programs at Cape Fear Community College, but we also find that North Carolina workers have roots in manufacturing. We regularly have multigenerational workers, as sons and daughters follow their parents to make a career here.”
GE Aviation opened its second North Carolina facility in 1994, the engine-assembly hub in Durham that today is one of two in the country building the LEAP engines. The plant employs 350 people and saw a $10 million upgrade in 2016 to allow for increased capacity and new equipment.
In the early 2000s, the company opened its third plant, this one a machining plant in West Jefferson – and soon added a second facility there. With 265 employees, the operation made $53 million in upgrades in 2016.
The company’s newest addition came in Asheville where 415 are employed. The operation includes a machining facility acquired in 2007 and the CMC components plant, a more recent investment of $125 million.
“Chances are, when you fly,” said Meguiar, “you’ll travel sooner than later in a jet propelled by precision engines made in North Carolina.”
For more on GE Aviation, visit the jet engine manufacturer’s website.
From the Wright Brothers’ first flight to today’s research and production of next-generation aircraft and parts, North Carolina continues its legacy as a leader in aerospace innovation.