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OC Aerospace, Defense Companies Trim Headcount

Leading companies in the OC commercial aerospace sector— including Boeing, Panasonic Avionics, Safran and Thales Avionics—cut back their workforces over the past year as the pandemic brought air travel to a near halt.

Overall, the 27 top aerospace and defense companies on the Business Journal’s annual list registered a 4.1% drop in headcount to 19,827 in Orange County as of last month compared to 12 months earlier, based on numbers provided by the firms and Business Journal estimates.

Orange County wasn’t as hard hit as other regions. The companywide headcount of these same firms fell 10.2% over the past year to 639,718.

Defense companies fared better. Raytheon Technologies Inc. in Fullerton moved up two notches to the No. 2 slot in this year’s Orange County rankings, as its headcount was stable at 2,000.

While small in size compared to Raytheon, Palmer Luckey’s defense and border protection company Anduril Industries in Irvine had the most notable rise in local staff size, jumping 82% to 400 employees in OC and moving up three places on the list to No. 12.

Upturn Expected

Commercial airplane makers and their suppliers are counting on an upturn despite the worrying numbers of people sickened by the Delta variant of COVID and those avoiding air travels.

Lake Forest-based Panasonic Avionics, which makes entertainment systems for the back of seats of commercial airlines, held onto the No. 3 position, but saw its local headcount decline by 10% to 1,980. The company will be moving its headquarters to Irvine, mostly likely at the end of this year.

Huntington Beach-based Safran, part of the French-based aerospace giant, fell two places to No. 4, as its headcount in OC slid to 1,756 this year from an estimated 2,000 last year. Safran cabin interiors are made in Surf City. In Brea, affiliate Safran Passenger Innovations develops in-flight entertainment systems and connectivity systems.

Thales Avionics in Irvine fell to an estimated 900 employees this year from 1,100 last year and slipped to eighth place. The main products of its Thales InFlyt Experience unit in Irvine are in-flight entertainment and connectivity solutions.

No. 1 Boeing

As for the top of the list, Boeing Co. held onto its unassailable first place even though its local headcount in Seal Beach and Huntington Beach dropped to an estimated 4,880 from an estimated 5,000 last year, the company felt the impact of the pandemic and the temporary suspension of Boeing 737 flights.

Parker Aerospace counts 1,231 at its Irvine facility and ranks No. 6.

Its parent, Parker Hannifin Corp. (NYSE: PH), said last month it intends to buy U.K.-based Meggitt PLC in an $8.8 billion deal.

Meggitt, which has two offices in Irvine, stayed at No. 11 though its headcount fell by 42 to 498.

Nano-satellite maker Tyvak in Irvine has been riding a wave of increased demand for ways to peer on planet Earth from outer space, increasing its headcount to 141 from 127 and moving up two places to No. 17.

Steve Oswald, chief executive of aerospace company Ducommun Inc. is optimistic about the firm’s prospects, which are tied to both the commercial and defense (see story, page 12). The company racked up a nearly 9% increase in second-quarter revenue and reached a key agreement with European airplane maker Airbus.

Ducommun fell three places to No. 24 as its OC headcount dipped to 82 in August from 117 the year before. Ducommun counts 2,428 employees companywide.

Small-satellite launch provider Rocket Lab USA Inc., which in the past year migrated north from Huntington Beach to Long Beach and isn’t on this list, began trading on the Nasdaq under the ticker “RKLB” on Aug. 25. Its share price slipped about 10% on the company’s first day of trading following its SPAC merger with Vector Acquisition Corp.  

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Kevin Costelloe
Kevin Costelloe
Tech reporter at Orange County Business Journal
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