Some GE Aviation workers in Cowley County will be adding to their skillset following an announcement Monday at the company’s Strother Field plant.
Company officials said the plant in Arkansas City has been selected to be an assembly site for GE’s new Passport 20 jet engine.
Most of its 700 workers at facilities at Strother Field and nearby Winfield maintain, repair, overhaul GE-built aircraft engines. It’s the first time they will be tasked with assembling new ones.
Strother plant manager Jorge Perez said during a formal announcement inside one of the plant’s buildings Monday morning that the new work won't mean an immediate gain in additional jobs. But it will mean a new piece of work long-term for the plant and its workers.
“We're talking about multiple decades of work for our site,” Perez said to a group of about 150 employees, local officials, Gov. Sam Brownback and U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita. “This is a big deal.”
Perez cited the work of GE Aviation employees in Cowley County as a key to winning the new engine work.
Pompeo said in his remarks that the site won the Passport work “because of the human beings sitting out here today. You should be immensly proud of this.”
Perez said in an interview that the Strother plant competed with nearly 80 other GE Aviation sites for the work. It also had to earn Federal Aviation Administration approval to assemble the engines and be included on GE’s product certificate, he said. It will be the only site within GE assembling the Passport engines.
“I think with these next generation engines, you want to be a site that’s playing in the game somehow,” Perez said.
GE Aviation’s other work at Strother and in Winfield involves the maintenance, repair and overhaul of GE-manufactured engines used on regional jets and Boeing 737s, and work on engines for Apache and Blackhawk military helicopters as well as commercial variants of the Blackhawk.
GE plans to invest about $7 million in the plant to do the engine assembly work. It expects to receive state incentives from adding the new work, though Perez deferred comment on details of the incentives to Kansas officials.
A Kansas Department of Commerce spokesman would not provide information about the incentives.
“Commerce does not have final, signed incentive contracts with GE Aviation yet, so we can’t comment on incentives at this time,” said Matt Keith, public information officer, in an e-mail to The Eagle.
Kerri Falletti, director of community and economic development for Cowley County, said there were no local incentives provided “for this type of project. This was a state-led project.”
The Passport engine is designed for large-cabin business jets and will be used on Bombardier's new Global 7000 and 8000 jets.
Those long-range jets don’t yet have a firm entry-into-service date, said Bombardier Business Aircraft spokeswoman Etienne Lavoie in an e-mail Monday. But “we can say that the Global 7000 and Global 8000 aircraft program is making good progress,” she said.
Bombardier won’t disclose its order tally for the new airplanes, she said, but “market demand for the Global 7000 and Global 8000 is however very strong.”
Perez said the Strother plant is expected to begin assembling the engines sometime next year. Its annual production of the engines is expected to go from a rate of about 80 Passport engines in 2017 to about 150 by 2020, he said.
The jet engine assembly work also “opens us up to compete for like work,” Perez said.