Having won the right to build the U.S. Air Force KC-46A tanker, do Boeing officials now think it will be no big deal to renege on their commitment to put a tanker finishing center and 7,500 new jobs in Wichita? If so, they need to think again.
The tanker isn’t just another product that Boeing should be free to develop and manufacture however and wherever it wishes.
It’s a taxpayer-funded prize worth $30 billion and 50,000 jobs that Boeing won over the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.’s Airbus on the merits of its bid but also through the tenacity of lawmakers in Boeing states, including Kansas, over more than a decade of bidding, rebidding and legal maneuvering.
More than that, the tanker is the kind of assignment ready-made for Wichita’s skilled aviation workforce, which has helped build Boeing into the world’s largest aerospace company over the past 82 years.
The tanker work belongs in Wichita, where the city of Wichita has long supported Boeing with property-tax abatements, sales-tax exemptions and industrial revenue bonds.
Indeed, tankers themselves have long belonged in Wichita, where the 63 KC-125 tankers at McConnell Air Force Base logged 43,000 flying hours this year.
Yet at Monday’s news conference at the National Center for Aviation Training in Wichita, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, revealed that a senior Boeing official had told him the KC-46A tanker finishing would be done in Washington state. That was on the heels on Boeing’s announcement last month that it was studying whether to shut down its Wichita plant.
At Monday’s conference, elected officials including Mayor Carl Brewer and Sedgwick County Commission Chairman Dave Unruh and labor leaders rightly stood united against the prospect of losing the tanker jobs and the plant.
As Pompeo said, “Kansas workers and Kansas political leaders were central to the Air Force’s decision to select Boeing over EADS. To remove Kansas from the tanker project not only violates a public trust, but it creates risk to taxpayers and to our airmen and fighting forces.”
As he also said, “The freedom to make business decisions does not extend to violating . . . long-standing promises to our community and obligations that arise from those commitments.”
Considering the lengths to which Kansas’ congressional delegation went to deliver the contract to Boeing, and the dedication and skills local workers have invested in the company’s planes for decades, Wichita deserves far better than this from Boeing, starting with the tanker jobs it was promised.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman