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Boeing’s departure lengthy, complicated

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, at 11:19 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

It’s been nearly a year since Boeing announced that after nearly 85 years, it was closing its historic Wichita site and moving out work by early 2014.

The transition is moving forward as planned, said Boeing Wichita spokeswoman Michelle Nalley.

It’s a lengthy and complicated process.

“We’re basically on target, and we’re on time transitioning all of the programs based on the announcement that was made in January,” Nalley said.

At the same time, the site continues to meet its commitments to its military customers.

“One of Boeing’s biggest successes in this transition is that they continue to deliver outstanding results to the customers, even with everything going on,” she said. “Everyone is still committed to ensuring quality service ... (and) in making sure they have what they need when they need it. ... I think that’s a pretty big success. We still have the high level of quality and craftsmanship.”

On Jan. 4, 2012, company officials said cuts to the nation’s defense budget and high overhead costs at the plant led to its decision to close its Wichita facilities.

Boeing built the B-29 Superfortress in Wichita during World War II; B-52s during the Cold War, and, eventually, portions of every Boeing commercial airliner here.

After shuttering its commercial aviation business in 2005, which led to the creation of Spirit AeroSystems, the site has concentrated solely on military programs.

“There is nothing else we can do in Wichita to survive this environment,” Mark Bass, vice president and general manager for Boeing Defense Systems’ Maintenance, Modifications & Upgrades, said at the time.

The company is in the midst of working to move program management and engineering to Boeing’s offices in Oklahoma City across the road from Tinker Air Force Base.

Hands-on modification and maintenance work is moving to Boeing’s San Antonio facility.

And work that was to come on the Air Force tanker program is now going to the Pacific Northwest.

Most of the changes will come later next year.

The move of programs and employees will happen in waves.

“Many employees and their families have accepted relocation packages,” Nalley said. “Some are moving now, and some are going to move throughout 2013 and in 2014.”

The majority of the 2,160 employees who worked at the site at the time of the announcement are still there. Today, the company employs about 1,800.

Some Wichita workers are moving to Boeing sites in Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Everett, Wash., or other company sites.

Along with the relocations are some retirements, and other Boeing employees are taking jobs with other companies in Wichita or elsewhere.

“Every employee on the site sat down with their managers and had a face-to-face (meeting) with them,” Nalley said.

Those meetings gave them information about their options.

Today, “everybody has a general idea of where they are going or what they’re going to do,” she said.

The company declined to provide a break down of the numbers of how many are moving, retiring or otherwise leaving.

Some employees will stay at the site until the final closure. They work in finance, facilities management, groundskeeping, communications and other areas.

Some people seem to think that everyone will be there until “Day X – when we all ... walk out and shut the doors, and that’s going to be it,” she said. “That’s not what’s happening. It’s a very lengthy process ... and there are a lot of people involved.”

Bob Brewer, Midwest director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, works with the engineers at Boeing who are represented by the union.

It’s possible, he said, that the closure could push into 2015. “But we don’t know until we get there,” Brewer said.

Some work will come into Wichita next year. For example, presidential aircraft called VC-25s, commonly known as Air Force One, are scheduled to come for maintenance.

Brewer said Boeing engineers are usually finding they have some options.

In January, Boeing employed about 550 engineers in Wichita. That number today is less than 500.

Fewer than 200 are taking jobs in Oklahoma City, and the majority of those will move in March, April and May.

Others are moving to other Boeing locations, retiring or accepting jobs at Spirit AeroSystems or with other companies.

“They’re scattering everywhere,” Brewer said. “There’s opportunities out there.”

Boeing is staffing a transition center to help employees. And it hosted job fairs as well as seminars for those who plan to retire.

Arien Masher, 31, grew up in Mulvane and has lived in Kansas all her life — until recently.

Masher began working in finance at Boeing 10 years ago after graduating from Wichita State University with a degree in business administration.

Her husband, Kyle, who grew up in Andover, works at Boeing in supplier management.

After considering their options, the two decided to accept jobs in Oklahoma City.

Arien’s brother-in-law, a Boeing engineer, and her sister, also made the move.

“We looked at all of our options,” Arien Masher said. “We wanted to make sure we were doing what was best for us in the long term.”

They moved in September, sold their house here and bought one in Edmond, about a 30-minute drive to work.

The most difficult part of the move was leaving behind friends and family. Their parents, aunts, uncles and extended family all live in Kansas. But the drive between the two cities is relatively easy, she said.

“It also can open up a lot of new doors and be very rewarding,” Masher said of moving. “We’re extremely happy with the decision. I won’t say it wasn’t stressful at times. But it was well worth it.”

It’s too early to say what will become of Boeing’s sprawling facilities along south Oliver. Boeing will need the facilities for another year.

The state is in regular contact with the company, Kansas Department of Commerce spokesman Dan Lara said earlier this month. “But there’s nothing new to report at this point.”

With the closure, Boeing’s logo will be missing from the city, but the company points out that it will still have plenty of work here through local suppliers.

In 2010, Boeing spent $3.2 billion in Kansas, Nalley said.

That will increase to $4.8 billion by early 2015 as the company raises production rates and builds a record number of commercial airliners.

Contact Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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