Boeing Co. is exploring whether to open a Dreamlifter Operations Center at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, an airport official said Tuesday.
If it does, Boeing would fly massive modified 747s, called Dreamlifters, into Mid-Continent to pick up 787 forward fuselages built by Spirit AeroSystems.
The planes now land at McConnell Air Force Base next to Spirit’s 787 hangar, where the fuselages are loaded, then flown to Boeing facilities for final assembly.
Boeing has been working to close its Wichita facilities and has put the facilities up for sale.
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“They’ve come to the airport out there at Mid-Continent to see if we had a place that it would fit,” said Victor White, Wichita Airport Authority director of airports. “If they sell the site, the eventual redevelopment of the existing Boeing site could be a problem for their organization. How can they guarantee a long-term future in Wichita unless they have a place to fly these airplanes?”
No other airport in the area, besides McConnell and Mid-Continent, is large enough to handle the airplanes, he said.
“We want to keep the production of the 787 fuselage in Wichita at Spirit by providing them a home for the operation,” White said.
Boeing spokeswoman Kathleen Spicer would not comment.
White said that it’s probably too expensive for Boeing to build new facilities at the airport, which would require expensive new roads and infrastructure.
“I think they’re hesitant to do that,” White said.
The airport is exploring whether there is a place that could be converted to their needs.
There’s not a lot of room for the planes and all the ground-moving operations, he said.
But one place on the cargo ramp could work, he said. However, there’s a building in the way that would have to be demolished.
The airport is analyzing whether that would work for Boeing.
Another challenge for Boeing would be securing a specially designed and built truck to pick up the forward fuselages from Spirit and truck them across town to the airport.
That kind of truck does not exist today and would take months to build, White said. It also would involve an elaborate transportation plan on the roads.
White said that if Boeing decides to move ahead with such a plan, it would sign a long-term agreement with the airport.
“Making this operation stay in Wichita is essential,” he said.