Collins Aerospace leader seeks to calm merger jitters

Phil Jasper, president of Collins Aerospace’s Mission Systems division.


By Dave DeWitte
[email protected]

Collins Aerospace Mission Systems President Phil Jasper offered some words of reassurance about the company’s future in the Corridor last week, in some of his first public remarks since the company was formed out of United Technologies’ acquisition of Rockwell Collins 10 months ago.

Mr. Jasper predicted stability in the jobs provided by Collins’ local operation and a continued commitment to the community in a speech to Cedar Rapids’ Downtown Rotary Club on Sept. 23. But Mr. Jasper, who previously led the defense side of Rockwell Collins, would not discuss the implications of its impending merger with Raytheon, saying it’s still in the planning stages.

Mr. Jasper also said Collins Aerospace isn’t suffering from the FAA’s grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max 8 aircraft, which uses many of its components, and still buys services and products from about 600 Iowa suppliers, totaling $175 million per year.

“I think we’ve demonstrated there’s not a reason to be nervous and we look forward to a bright future ahead,” he told the more than 150 in attendance. He added that Collins Aerospace is pleased by the welcoming attitude the community has demonstrated to UTC.

Past and present Cedar Rapids mayors had some of the opening questions in a question-and-answer period, with Mayor Brad Hart asking whether Mr. Jasper expects the workforce to grow or shrink.

“I think we’re in a state now where we’re probably leveling off, and we don’t see major movements one way or another relative to our workforce, which is frankly a really good thing,” Mr. Jasper replied. “If you can get that stability in the workforce, that’s really good for all of us.”

He did not elaborate beyond noting that the company has hired about 1,000 people over the past several years. He did confirm that hiring is difficult, particularly in the area of engineering talent.

Cedar Rapids is home to two of Collins Aerospace’s six business units. Mission Systems, which specializes in military GPS and radio communications gear, is led by Mr. Jasper. About 90 percent of its products are for defense markets. Avionics, which makes aircraft controls and navigation equipment for commercial and military customers, is led by Steve Timm. Its production is more evenly split between commercial and defense.

Under United Technologies, Collins Aerospace is a global enterprise with 70,000 employees. About 10,500 of them are based in Iowa, and about 9,000 of them are in the Corridor.

Mr. Jasper told the CBJ he sees communications equipment, GPS, and testing and training capabilities as some of the strongest potential growth areas for the company’s local operations at the moment.

“Obviously if robust air traffic demands more airplanes, more service and support, that is good for us as well,” he added, referring to avionics demand.

Collins Aerospace has been a key supplier to Boeing’s 737 Max 8 jetliner, which was grounded globally after two crashes linked to a flight control system called MCAS. Although Collins Aerospace is a key electronics supplier to the 737 Max 8, Mr. Jasper said it hasn’t impacted the business.

“We are very tightly coupled with Boeing and I think we’re in a pretty good spot right now,” he said.

Collins Aerospace is working with Boeing to address the 737 Max issues, Mr. Jasper told the CBJ, although he didn’t hold the support work out as anything unusual.

“Obviously anything Boeing flies, we’re a part of the team and we’ll take our cues from them,” he said.

The capabilities a combined Raytheon and UTC could bring to market in the area of hypersonic weapons and countermeasures has been cited as a rationale for their merger. Collins Aerospace isn’t directly involved in the hypersonics race because it doesn’t produce aircraft, Mr. Jasper said, however it supplies some of the communications and navigation electronics they require to be successful (quipping that “an airplane is essentially a flying dust cover for our electronics”).

At speeds above Mach 3, Mr. Jasper acknowledged technical challenges such as plasma effects can impede communication, and that Collins Aerospace is working to address through research, innovation and product development to address that and other challenges.

The most serious concerns Mr. Jasper was willing to discuss was the company’s challenges in recruiting and retaining employees. He encouraged the community to increase its support for diversity.

“In the community, one of the challenges we have is that we’re not as diverse a community as some places you could look at on the east or west coasts,” he said. “That is a factor in where people want to live, where their families are, where their connections are.”

Iowa also needs more population growth, Mr. Jasper said, and “relative to the immigration activities, we think a path to legal immigration is something we can all use and benefit from.”

Shareholder votes on the United Technologies-Raytheon merger are scheduled for Oct. 11.