Boeing abandons Wichita and its 2,100 employees after eight decades, taking hundreds of promised tanker jobs with it. The Air Force favors a Brazilian-built light-air support aircraft while excluding Hawker Beechcraft’s bid, and won’t even say why. As a still-fuming Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, put it during a Thursday meeting with The Eagle editorial board: “Happy New Year.”
Pompeo wants more substantive answers on the Hawker exclusion from Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. He deserves them, as do Hawker and Wichita.
And at a time when many others consider Boeing’s move a heartbreaking but done deal, Pompeo is raising the prospect of congressional hearings and trying to find out whether Boeing will violate its undisclosed tanker contract with the Pentagon by leaving Wichita.
That’s an excellent question among many that linger in the wake of Boeing’s announcement Wednesday, such as:
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• When did Boeing decide not only to do the tanker finishing elsewhere but to leave town entirely?
Boeing vice president Mark Bass told the editorial board Wednesday that the tanker question was “integral” to the closing decision, which was made Dec. 30, and said that Pompeo was “incorrect” in claiming on Dec. 19 that he had been told by a senior company official that the tanker work would be done in the Seattle area rather than Wichita.
Pompeo disputed that timetable. “They’re wrong. They’re just wrong,” he told the editorial board.
Among the compelling reasons he cited for why it must have been in the works for a long time: National-security clearances were involved in moving work on Air Force One out of Wichita.
Nor did he think it was credible for Boeing to argue it didn’t know defense procurement budgets would begin declining.
• Are Boeing Wichita’s costs really 70 percent higher than at its San Antonio facility? And if so, where and why? Bass wouldn’t get specific with the editorial board. “I’d love to see the spreadsheet,” said Pompeo, expressing skepticism.
• How can Boeing suggest there was nothing the state or local governments could have done to prevent the move, and that “we weren’t going to ask,” as Bass said, when it has enjoyed industrial revenue bonds and property-tax abatements in Wichita over the past three decades – and, more relevant now, the Port of San Antonio is building Boeing a hangar, which it will lease?
Sustained outrage from Pompeo and other elected officials may not change anything, and can’t be good for Wichita’s desired relationship with Boeing going forward as a prime supplier.
But Boeing sharpened the blow, and invited blowback, with its promises and process. After nearly 85 years in Wichita, it should have known better.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman