Hawker Beechcraft to keep Wichita’s Plant I open, saving hundreds of jobs

03/15/2012 11:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:09 AM

Cheers went up inside Hawker Beechcraft’s Plant 1 on Thursday as employees learned the news that the plant will not close as previously planned, a move that will save 300 jobs.

“It’s just crazy,” Rita Rogers, a Machinists union District 70 official, said of the reaction. “It gives them some excitement; it gives them some hope.”

The decision came as part of a joint partnership forged between the company and the Machinists during contract negotiations last year.

"As of today, it is expected that current Plant 1 operations will essentially remain unchanged," said a memo to union stewards, team leaders and crew chiefs obtained by The Eagle. The memo was signed by the HBC Joint Partnership Steering Committee.

The union and the company have been in discussions about Plant 1 for a while, Rogers said.

“This shows leadership from both sides … continue to work for the benefit of the people and our company,” Rogers said.

Hawker Beechcraft spokeswoman Nicole Alexander said in an e-mail, “This is an example of the results of working together with our union to enhance the company’s competitive position.”

Plant I is a massive facility, with more than 1 million square feet. It sits on a 40-acre complex inside what’s known as Hawker Beechcraft’s “Square Mile,” a reference to the company’s sprawling site roughly between Webb and Greenwich and Kellogg and 13th Street.

Inside Plant 1, workers perform sheet metal fabrication, assembly, metal bond work and other processes. It has a machine shop and a paint shop.

In late 2010, more than 700 office workers and 500 hourly employees worked inside Plant 1, according to information at the time. Since then, some employees, such as the engineers, have moved to other facilities. Other employees have been laid off.

Hawker Beechcraft employs about 4,700 people in Wichita.

In 2010, Hawker Beechcraft had plans to close Plants 1 and 2 and move the work to outside suppliers and to its facility in Chihuahua, Mexico. The changes were part of a plan called “Project Challenge” to cut costs and adjust to a changed business environment brought on by the economic downturn.

In preparing for the planned closure of Plant 1, some layoffs had taken place and some machines were removed, Rogers said.

“Morale was down,” she said.

But that changed Thursday.

“People are going wild out here,” one employee said of the mood at Plant 1. “People are elated.”

The decision is now to “hold onto right now to what we’ve got,” Rogers said.

“Assuming aircraft build rates remain at current levels, the overall volume of work performed in Plant 1 is expected to be maintained while this revised strategy is developed and implemented," the memo said.

The company will launch an “intensive lean/continuous improvement” initiative to become more efficient and improve costs. That’s needed for Plant 1 to be in a more cost competitive position, the memo said.

“In order to reduce lead time, improve response time and optimize cost, fabrication and assembly operations will be streamlined and balanced between our facilities,” it said. “Plant 1 plays a critical role in this strategy.”

The committee will continue to discuss, develop and implement plans to enhance the company’s competitive position, it said, “thus capitalizing on our highly skilled workforce, facility capabilities and commitment to be the best in the industry.”

Plans to close the much smaller Plant 2 remains in process, said Alexander, the company spokeswoman.

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