WICHITA, Kansas (AP) — Fears about the closure of Boeing Co.'s Wichita plant resurfaced Monday after a lawmaker's comments that he had been told that modification work on Air Force refueling tankers will be done in Washington state, but Boeing says its study of all programs at the Kansas site is still going on.
Boeing won a decade-long fight for Pentagon approval to build 179 refueling tankers worth at least $35 billion, a project long touted as being able to create some 7,500 direct and indirect jobs in Kansas with an overall economic impact of $388 million.
"We now know that Boeing intends to walk away from that promise — which severely jeopardizes the future of over 2,000 aviation jobs right here in our community," U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo told reporters Monday.
No explanation was given for the decision, Pompeo said, and he declined to name the senior official at Boeing with whom he spoke.
Boeing had said last month it was studying whether to close the Wichita facility, which specializes in modifying commercial aircraft for military or government operations, in order to address Defense Department budget cuts. The company said Monday that the study was still going on and Boeing 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.
Boeing has had a facility in Wichita since it bought the Stearman Aircraft Co. in 1929. During World War II, employment at the plant peaked at more than 40,000 as the company churned out four bombers a day, Bartlett said. For decades the company remained the city's largest employer.
Slower federal military spending is affecting defense companies like Boeing. Several other defense companies have announced layoffs.
"The whole defense sector is going to remain under pressure for at least the next year or two," said Brian Langenberg, a defense and aerospace analyst for Langenberg & Co.
Wichita, which calls itself the "air capital of the world" is home to manufacturing plants for Spirit AeroSystems, Cessna Aircraft, Bombardier Aerospace and Hawker Beechcraft as well as more than a hundred smaller aircraft parts suppliers that support them. Now not only does the city stand to possibly lose the 7,500 direct and indirect aviation jobs that the refueling tanker work entailed, but also the remaining jobs at the Boeingplant.
AP Business Writer Joshua Freed in Minneapolis contributed to this report.