Boeing touts number of tanker jobs

A Boeing contract to build aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force would bring 7,500 jobs to Kansas and have an economic impact of $388 million a year, Boeing said Friday.

The 7,500 figure includes existing and new jobs at Boeing and its suppliers, and other jobs created in the community, said Boeing spokesman Bill Barksdale.

Boeing's Wichita facility would become a finishing center for the tanker, should Boeing win the bid against Airbus parent EADS, which is also bidding.

Boeing would build the tanker using its 767 commercial airliner as a platform. EADS would use the Airbus A330 as its platform.

The initial contract for 179 new tankers is worth about $35 billion, but the deal eventually could be worth $100 billion as the Air Force replaces its fleet of about 600 Cold War-era tankers in what could be one of the largest Pentagon purchases ever.

Even though it has projected a jobs number related to the tanker program, "we are still writing our... proposal and will not be releasing specific employment numbers for tanker work at the Boeing Wichita site," Barksdale said.

"Rest assured that the talented men and women at Boeing Wichita will play an important part in our operations and tanker modification."

A number of Wichita manufacturers would provide critical parts for the tanker should Boeing win the contract, the company said.

Some of the suppliers include Spirit AeroSystems, which builds the 767 forward section; Kaman Aerostructures, which makes mechanical components; Machining Specialists, which builds machined metal parts; and McGinty Machine Co., which builds precision-machined metal parts.

The 7,500 job figure is much higher than those projected in the previous round of bidding.

In the last round, officials said the contract would have meant 300 to 500 jobs at the Boeing Wichita plant and another 500 jobs with local suppliers.

It also would have resulted in an economic ripple effect that would have meant a total of 3,800 jobs and $145 million a year in economic impact, U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt said at the time.

"It sounds like they've been way overreaching in terms of multiplier effect," Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia said of the projection for Kansas jobs.

"With multiplier estimates you start getting into absurd levels to the people who deliver newspapers to the people who serve coffee to the people who sell real estate to the people who work there," he said.

EADS decided to bid on the tanker alone after its partner, Northrop Grumman, dropped out of the contest, saying the Air Force's bid request favors Boeing's smaller tanker.

The Pentagon granted EADS a deadline extension to July 9 from May 10 so it could bid.

It's the Air Force's third attempt to secure a tanker contract, which has involved scandal, intense lobbying and tensions.

Boeing first won the contract in 2003, but the deal was scuttled amid an ethics scandal involving a government procurement officer and Boeing.

A second contract was awarded to EADS and Northrop Grumman, but was overturned after the Government Accountability Office said the rules had been changed to favor the EADS/Northrop Grumman team.