The Pentagon got it right after all. Boeing gets the $35 billion contract to build the Air Force’s new fleet of aerial-refueling tankers. American communities, including Wichita, will get the thousands of jobs necessary to build the planes. Most important, U.S. military men and women will get safe, new tankers built by a tested American company and work force.
Boeing won — after more than a decade of false starts, mistakes and even corruption, and despite recent predictions that the odds were with European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., parent company of Airbus. In fact, Boeing was the “clear winner,” according to Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn.
So Wichita won big, too.
Like December’s deal to keep Hawker Beechcraft headquartered in Wichita, the tanker award buoys hopes for the future of aircraft manufacturing in the Air Capital. As Chicago-based Boeing ramps up to deliver 18 new KC-46A tankers by 2017, of a total 179, it will mean perhaps 7,500 jobs for Kansas, both at Boeing Wichita and suppliers such as Spirit AeroSystems.
The Kansas delegation in Congress deserves much gratitude for fighting to deliver the tanker jobs to Boeing and their state. Former 4th District Rep. Todd Tiahrt was especially tenacious about demanding the Air Force consider Airbus’ illegal European subsidies and not buy a “French tanker.”
After several years of once-unimaginable layoffs and uncertainty, Wichita can feel good about the prospects for its aircraft industry. As Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said on Twitter: “I look forward to seeing Boeing tankers coming off the Wichita production lines and flown by the airmen and women at McConnell.”
Though EADS and its Southern water carriers in Congress still may challenge the outcome, the bidding process was fair and the best company and plane prevailed. It’s time to get the tankers built and airborne. Wichita’s skilled aircraft workers stand ready to help.