Wichita gets the bye-bye Boeing blues

Instead of building its long-awaited refueling tanker in Kansas, Boeing threatens to pull out.

Instead of building its long-awaited refueling tanker in Kansas, Boeing threatens to pull out.

Local officials and other Boeing-watchers who’ve felt jerked around by the company’s recurrent threats to split for greener, cheaper, nonunion pastures can be glad they’re not in Kansas. While jet production soars here, Wichita, the jet city in the cornfields, feels a big jilt coming on.

The Wichita Eagle reports that Boeing had promised to build 179 refueling tankers at its Wichita defense plant. Kansas officials turned out for the 10-year lobbying campaign to get the $35 billion tanker contract, hoping it would reverse years of job losses and end fears for the plant’s future. (Boeing spun off its Wichita commercial-jet operations in 2005.) Now, with the contract won, the company seems to be singing a different tune. Last Monday (Nov. 21), it announced that it was considering various options for Wichita including “potential closure of the site.” On Tuesday, a Boeing rep offered some crumbs, saying Wichita engineers might get some work on the tankers, but those wouldn't start arriving till 2014 and in the meantime there was nothing else for the plant.

Prospects look even worse with indiscriminate cuts in military spending looming, thanks to the failure of Congress’s so-called supercommittee to reach a deficit deal. Nevertheless, Wichita City Councilmember Janet Miller said she wants to ask Boeing officials how "we as a community and aviation cluster can work with them." Roll out the tax breaks — it's concession time, folks.

Just don’t blame the unions. Kansas is a right-to-work state.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Eric Scigliano

Eric Scigliano

Eric Scigliano's reporting on social and environmental issues for The Weekly (later Seattle Weekly) won Livingston, Kennedy, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other honors. He has also written for Harper's, New Scientist, and many other publications. One of his books, Michelangelo's Mountain, was a finalist for the Washington Book Award. His other books include Puget SoundLove, War, and Circuses (aka Seeing the Elephant); and, with Curtis E. Ebbesmeyer, Flotsametrics.