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Reason to hope, be wary

  • Published Tuesday, July 10, 2012, at 7:06 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, July 10, 2012, at 7:07 p.m.

It’s one thing to know general aviation is a global business. It will be something else entirely to see Hawker Beechcraft sold to a Chinese company partly owned by the city of Beijing. But for all the uncertainty still ahead, it is reassuring that the Wichita-based planemaker now has a buyer willing to invest in its commercial product lines and guide it from bankruptcy to profitability.

And this isn’t just any buyer, but rather one uniquely positioned to help Hawker Beechcraft and other Wichita aviation companies find customers in the fast-growing Chinese marketplace.

Most important to Wichita, Superior Aviation Beijing Co.’s $1.79 billion offer to purchase the company from owners Goldman Sachs and Onex Corp. comes with a stated intention to maintain Hawker Beechcraft’s U.S. headquarters, management team and employees.

Wichita could use some job saving for a change, after the thousands of layoffs at local aircraft manufacturers since 2008 and Boeing’s January decision to pull its remaining 2,160 jobs out of Wichita after 80 years.

To be sure, Wichita has reason to be wary, given the local jobs it has seen outsourced to China and the promises that were quickly forgotten after other companies were sold.

The deal has to survive major legal and regulatory hurdles in the next 45 days in the U.S. and China. State and local taxpayers and elected officials feel especially invested in what happens next, given the 2010 deal in which Hawker Beechcraft got $45 million in incentives in exchange for promising to keep a Wichita workforce above 3,600 over 10 years. (Layoffs in April, May and June brought local employment to nearly 4,100.) The unanswered questions include what will become of Hawker Beechcraft’s defense business and pension plans.

As Hawker Beechcraft CEO Steve Miller works through the challenges of this global partnership, though, Wichita can hope for the best for a company that has given its best to the community as well as general aviation for more than eight decades.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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