Boeing Cites Weak Military Market, Closes Plant

“The military maintenance, repair and overhaul market has been flat or declining,” according to Mark Bass, vice president and general manager for Boeing Defense Systems’ Maintenance, Modifications and Upgrades. His comments appeared in an early January edition of the Wichita Eagle, published the day after the manufacturer decided to close its facility in Wichita, Kan.

Bass cited “cuts to the [United States’] defense budget and high overhead costs at the Wichita plant” as reasons for the closure. Boeing officials claim they made their decision “based on a thorough study of the current and future market environment” for military repair and modification business, according to Wichita’s daily newspaper. “No matter how hard we work and how hard we try, there simply is not enough modification and support business to sustain [the Wichita plant],” said Steve Wade, Boeing’s head of Wichita operations.

Boeing’s Wichita facility, which employs more than 2,100 workers, has been a maintenance and modification center for government and military aircraft, including Air Force One, the modified B747 that transports the President of the United States. The closure dismayed plant employees and residents of Wichita who believed that, because Boeing won the U.S. Air Force’s KC-46A Tanker contract, jobs would be assured at the facility long term.

Upon receiving the $35-billion Tanker contract, Boeing announced that the order for modified B767-200ERs would support 50,000 jobs in the U.S. and about 7,500 jobs in Kansas. Now, however, work that would have taken place in Wichita goes to Oklahoma City, Okla., where about 800 jobs will be created, and San Antonio, Texas, where there will be 300 to 400 positions open. Doors at Boeing’s Wichita facility will be fully closed in late 2013.

Boeing has a long history in Wichita, dating back to 1927, when Kansas native Lloyd Stearman moved his Stearman Aircraft Co. to the city. Stearman and Boeing became part of the United Aircraft and Transport Co., then were joined together and spun off in 1934, the result of antitrust action. In Wichita, Boeing built the B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress, as well as the Waco CG-4 Glider used during the Normandy invasion in World War II. Engineering work on the KC-46A’s predecessor, KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft, was conducted in Wichita in the late 1960s, and in the early 1990s, the Boeing plant produced two modified B747s to serve as Air Force One.

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