Lean production and supply concepts are amongst the most influential management theories. Yet, they have scarcely been applied to aerospace, an industry sector of great importance. This paper identifies generic trends in aerospace outsourcing and explores to what extent the lean supply approach is fit to conceptualise them. It investigates to what degree the outsourcing strategies of Airbus UK and the wider Airbus operations are explicable with the lean approach. The paper finds that lean is capable of conceptualising most generic trends in aerospace outsourcing and most of the Airbus policies. Lean neglects the relevance of knowledge to outsourcing, however, and fails to recognise the diversity of the Airbus supply approach. Knowledge management in this process is now crucial. Technological capabilities are central to the Airbus strategies, illustrating the need to acknowledge knowledge as a key explanatory parameter of outsourcing theory. In conclusion, we find the higher the knowledge content, the more partnering occurs, the lower the content, the more hierarchical the relationship are.
Keywords: lean production, outsourcing, knowledge management, aerospace industry, UK, Airbus, Boeing