ANDOVER — Hawker Beechcraft and the Machinists union officially opened negotiations today with a meeting at Terradyne Country Club in Andover.
Both sides said they are entering the talks — which are occurring a year before the contract expires — in the spirit of openness, frankness and respect while acknowledging the seriousness and gravity of the times.
"Thank you for responding to our request to take the time and the effort to open our agreement and examine it at a very crucial time in our company today," Bill Boisture, CEO of Hawker Beechcraft, told the union representatives.
Boisture said the market for business aircraft is 30 to 40 percent smaller than it was in late 2008.
Union representatives included Tom Buffenbarger, international president of the Machinists union, who said the company and union must find a way to keep jobs and the company viable.
"We find it necessary to take a leap of faith," he said.
Hawker Beechcraft has told the union, which represents about 2,400 hourly workers in Wichita, that the company will move its aircraft production out of Wichita if talks aren't successful, union leaders said previously.
Boisture told The Eagle last month that the company is considering moving work to Louisiana or Mississippi. It's also looking outside the U.S.
A series of decisions, including Wichita's future role, will be made over the next six months, Boisture said at the time.
It's too soon to say what specific concessions the company is seeking, Machinist officials say. But sources say the company wants pay cuts and for workers to pay more of the cost of health insurance premiums.