Boeing plans to shift thousands of tanker jobs here, Kansas official says

A Kansas congressman said the Boeing Co. plans to cut his state out of work for a new refueling tanker, a move that could bring thousands of jobs to the Puget Sound area.

The work would involve a $35 billion contract with the U.S. Air Force to build the tanker based on 767 passenger jets. The original plan called for Boeing workers in Everett to build the aircraft while workers in Wichita, Kan., would install the military systems. The tanker contract was expected to support about 7,500 jobs in Kansas.

“The Boeing Co. has made it clear that it does not intend to finish the KC-46A Tanker in Wichita,” Rep Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., said Monday. “Instead, the work will be done in Washington state.”

Boeing said Monday it is still studying the fate of its Wichita plant. In November, Boeing said it was assessing the Kansas site, where it performs mostly military work, in light of proposed cuts to the U.S. defense budget. On Monday, Boeing said it won’t make an announcement about any work moving elsewhere until late this year or early next year.

“Everybody is talking about the tanker work — all of the programs at the Wichita facility are part of the ongoing study,” said Jarrod Bartlett, a spokesman for Boeing in Wichita.

The facility has 2,100 employees and handles work on the Air Force executive fleet, bomber engineering and modification support and still has some work it is doing on an Italian refueling tanker, Bartlett said.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said the company made a commitment to the city.

“The discussion about the possibility of them moving someplace else and shutting down the complex that they have here is unacceptable,” Brewer said.

Kansas politicians, like their counterparts here in Washington, lobbied vigorously for Boeing to win the tanker contest. EADS, the parent company of Boeing’s rival Airbus, also was competing for the contract to supply the Air Force with 179 tankers.

“Kansas workers and Kansas political leaders were central to the Air Force’s decision to select Boeing over EADS,” Pompeo said in a statement. “To remove Kansas from the tanker project not only violates a public trust, but it creates risk to taxpayers and to our fighting forces.”

In its landmark agreement with the Machinists in Washington this month, Boeing promised to put tanker modification work here if that work isn’t completed in Kansas.

Boeing could have its employees in Everett complete the work that Wichita was slotted to do. Or Boeing could modify its 767s at another Washington location. The company’s employees in Renton already build on the same line a commercial 737 and its military derivative, a 737-based submarine hunter called the P-8, for the Navy.

Bob Brewer, Wichita director for Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, said he is disappointed Boeing is even considering closing the plant.

“This isn’t about today,” he said. “This is about the future of Wichita, the future of Kansas and the future of Boeing and the jobs that were promised to us.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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