Keeping the chief aloft

When something goes wrong with the president's airplane, Boeing Wichita gets the call.

Boeing's global transport and executive systems team, which is based in Wichita, provides support 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the plane commonly called Air Force One.

"We provide that support anywhere our customers are and at any time they're traveling," said Boeing Wichita spokesman Jarrod Bartlett. The global transport and executive systems team provides maintenance, modifications and support for the Boeing fleet that supports the National Command Authority — the president, secretary of defense and others — and other head-of-state aircraft.

Along with transportation, the Boeing aircraft must provide protection and connectivity.

About 1,000 Boeing employees work for the organization at nine sites, including about 450 in Wichita.

To help improve customer service, Boeing combined its derivative airplane program in Seattle and the special air mission program in Wichita more than a year ago to form the global transport and executive systems team.

Before, the two groups worked independently with different styles and philosophies, Bartlett said.

The Seattle organization, for example, focused on the commercial airplane derivative business for military uses, while Wichita focused on supporting military customers.

That meant military customers often didn't know whether to call the group who sold them the aircraft or those who supported it. That led to some frustrated customers, said Leanne Caret, former head of the Wichita organization who recently become vice president of Boeing's Chinook helicopter program in Philadelphia.

"Now, there's a single face to the customer," Caret said. "It has made a world of difference."

The transition hasn't been easy, and there is more work to be done, said Steven Wade, who replaced Caret.

"It's been challenging internally and externally," he said. But it's "well worth the investment."

The restructuring has led to some new business for the organization. And it will help it win more work in the future, Wade said.

The goal is to double the global transport organization's business in five years, he said.

"We've actually had a couple of international wins..." Wade said. "We have a pretty good strategy in front of us."

For example, the Puget Sound site won a bid for the India Prime Minister's aircraft, and Boeing Wichita won a contract for its support, Caret said.

Boeing's Oklahoma City site won a $5 million maintenance contract from NASA on its shuttle carrier, a modified 747. That meant work for Oklahoma City and for Wichita, Caret said.

The new work has helped stabilize the Wichita work force, but it hasn't "fixed the other business falling off," Caret said. Boeing Wichita is reducing employment as work on other programs wind down.

The first step to increasing the unit's business is to do a good job on the work it already has, Wade said.

When the government goes through its acquisition process, one of the measures it analyzes is past performance, said Bartlett, the Boeing Wichita spokesman.

"If you take care of your customers today, they'll remember that in the future," Bartlett said.