Sad as it is that Wichita will no longer be Air Force One’s service station once Boeing leaves town next year, it will be worse for the country if Boeing doesn’t clear up concerns about who’s going to maintain the president’s plane and its backup elsewhere.
Boeing announced in January that it would close its Wichita facility by the end of 2013, meaning the shocking loss of 2,160 jobs and the end of an 83-year relationship between the company and the community. According to the plan, the regular maintenance on the two highly specialized Boeing 747-200Bs used as Air Force One would be handled in San Antonio.
The company should have planned far ahead for the needs of the Air Force One program, given the special handling it requires of a facility and workforce. Securing Air Force clearance to work on the high-tech jumbo jet reportedly can take two years, while its mechanics and other specialists must have five years’ experience on that or comparable special-mission planes.
But Bloomberg News obtained an Air Force letter to Boeing, dated July 30, that described building a qualified staff for Air Force One in San Antonio as “one of the most important aspects of the move yet least successful to date.” The letter’s author, Air Force contracting officer Margaret Wright, asked Boeing to provide a plan by mid-August detailing how it would retain and train personnel for the planes.
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According to Bloomberg News, none of seven members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace had accepted transfer offers, nor had any members of the Machinists union. “The government’s overall concern is related to the low number of targeted Wichita personnel offered positions in San Antonio” and the low number of workers in San Antonio who can meet the standards for Air Force One maintenance, Wright had written in July.
As of Sept. 7, “numerous letters” had been exchanged, Air Force spokesman Daryl Mayer told Bloomberg News. “At this time the USAF has no reason to believe Boeing won’t meet all the terms and conditions of their respective contracts during this transition,” Mayer wrote.
Meanwhile, the next time one of the Air Force One jets reportedly is scheduled to need work is early 2013. One or the other of the planes has been to Wichita for service about every eight months.
As Wright wrote Boeing, “it goes without saying, failure is not an option.”
Nor, we’d add, would Boeing be in this bind if it were staying in Wichita, with easy access to Wichita’s practiced aviation-manufacturing workforce.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman