Recriminations in Kansas for Boeing

As can be expected with Boeing’s (BA) decision to close their Wichita, KS facility and move work to Washington and Texas the politicians who represent the state are not happy. Many Congressman and Senators who provided support to Boeing to win the KC-46A contract from the U.S. Air Force feel betrayed.

They cite the fact that Boeing executives basically promised the work would be done in Kansas if the contract was one creating thousands of jobs in that state.

The Mayor of Wichita, Carl Brewer, feels the same way. He claims Boeing has betrayed the city by their decision. Wichita has invested millions of the taxpayers money in the plant which has been open since the 1930’s and built bombers during World War II and the Cold War. Now in about 24 months it will stop work and the jobs will be eliminated or moved.

The decision by Boeing based the company claims on cost considerations alone highlight what may happen across the U.S. as the defense budget shrinks and programs are cut or eliminated. Similar scenes have happened before in the 70’s and 90’s as military spending has been reduced. Wichita may be the first of many cities this time around.

That, of course, does not make those who supported Boeing feel better but now they may join the Florida and Alabama representatives who tried to aid Northrop Grumman (NOC) and EADS North America, part of EADS (EADS:P) who worked for those companies to win the KC-X contract. The goal for them of course was investment and jobs in a time when manufacturing ones are hard to find.

As government spending is cut back there will be many other politicians crying foul.

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Boeing to Close Wichita Facility

At a meeting today with its workforce Boeing (BA) announced that it will close their facility in Wichita, KS and move the work from their to Washington state. The closure will take about 2 years and lead to the elimination of over 2,000 jobs.

In their press release Boeing stated “The decision to close our Wichita facility was difficult but ultimately was based on a thorough study of the current and future market environment and our ability to remain competitive while meeting our customers’ needs with the best and most affordable solutions,” said Mark Bass, vice president and general manager for BDS’ Maintenance, Modifications & Upgrades division. “We recognize how this will affect the lives of the highly skilled men and women who work here, so we will do everything possible to assist our employees, their families and our community through this difficult transition.”

Even though the plant in Wichita is closing Boeing will still rely on Kansas suppliers for their aircraft programs.

The full press release follows:

Boeing to Close Wichita Facility by the End of 2013

— Defense budget reductions, limited opportunities for new work and competitive cost structure driving need to close facility

WICHITA, Kan., Jan. 4, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — The Boeing Company (NYSE: BA) today announced that the Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS) facility in Wichita will close by the end of 2013. The Wichita facility currently employs more than 2,160 employees.

“The decision to close our Wichita facility was difficult but ultimately was based on a thorough study of the current and future market environment and our ability to remain competitive while meeting our customers’ needs with the best and most affordable solutions,” said Mark Bass, vice president and general manager for BDS’ Maintenance, Modifications & Upgrades division. “We recognize how this will affect the lives of the highly skilled men and women who work here, so we will do everything possible to assist our employees, their families and our community through this difficult transition.”

Boeing Wichita is the base for the company’s Global Transport & Executive Systems business and its B-52 and 767 International Tanker programs. The facility also provides support for flight mission planning and integrated logistics.

Over the past five years, contracts in Wichita have matured, programs have come to a close or are winding down, and the site does not have enough sustainable business on the horizon to create an affordable cost structure to maintain and win new business.

“In this time of defense budget reductions, as well as shifting customer priorities, Boeing has decided to close its operations in Wichita to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and drive competitiveness,” said Bass. “We will begin program transitions in the coming months, with the complete closure of the site scheduled for the end of 2013. We do not anticipate job reductions as a result of this decision until early in the third quarter of 2012.”

Bass said that Boeing will continue to have a significant impact on the Kansas economy and the health of the state’s aerospace industry.

“The company spent more than $3.2 billion with approximately 475 Kansas suppliers in 2011, spanning its commercial and defense businesses, making it the fourth largest state in Boeing’s supplier network,” said Bass. “Based on Boeing Commercial Airplanes growth projections for the next few years, Boeing anticipates even more growth for suppliers in Kansas. Boeing values its long-term partnership with Kansas, and we will continue to work with all of our stakeholders in Kansas in support of a robust aerospace industry in the state.”

Future aircraft maintenance, modification and support work will be placed at the Boeing facility in San Antonio. Engineering work will be placed at the Boeing facility in Oklahoma City. Although work on the KC-46 tanker will now be performed in Puget Sound, Wash., the 24 Kansas suppliers on the program will be providing vital elements of the aircraft as originally planned.

Boeing is providing employee assistance including retirement seminars, job search resources, and financial counseling, as well as help finding jobs inside or out of Boeing.

A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is one of the world’s largest defense, space and security businesses specializing in innovative and capabilities-driven customer solutions, and the world’s largest and most versatile manufacturer of military aircraft. Headquartered in St. Louis, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is a $32 billion business with 63,000 employees worldwide. Follow us on Twitter: @BoeingDefense.

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Boeing May Not Work on KC-46A in Kansas

Update – It has been reported that Boeing has called a mandatory meeting of all its Wichita employees tomorrow. It is also been reported that part of the new contract with the Machinists requires the KC-46A work to be done in Washington if the Wichita site closes.

Previously Boeing (BA) has done a great deal of their work on military and government aircraft at their facility in Wichita, KS. This has included the VC-25 Air Force One version of the 747, the KC-135 tankers and the E-4A command and control aircraft. It was assumed, especially by the Kansas Congressional delegation, that much of the work on the new KC-46A tanker would also be done at the facility.

Now word is leaking out that Boeing is planning on doing all of the necessary tanker effort at their main facility in Everett, WA. The 767 that will be converted to the tankers will be assembled there but rather then being militarized in Wichita they will remain in Washington. This, understandably, has roiled the media, the workers in Kansas and various Senators and Congressmen.

They feel that their support for Boeing to win the contract is now wasted as rather then seeing more work Boeing could be eliminating jobs and laying people off in Kansas.

Boeing has stated that until they understand fully the effects of changes in the U.S. defense budget that they won’t commit to announcing anything about the Wichita plant and their overall work structure. This may not be until later this year. It had been estimated that over 7,000 jobs will be created by the KC-46A militarization and support efforts with the idea that those jobs would be in Kansas. Now that is not guaranteed.

This may be an effect of the new contract Boeing signed with their main union that allowed them to successfully get the U.S. government to drop action against the company for opening a new facility in South Carolina. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had filed a complaint against the company stating that the only reason Boeing expanded to South Carolina was to retaliate against unions in Washington. This was dropped after the company signed a new deal with the union that promised to keep a great deal of jobs in the Northwest.

Boeing intends to use the South Carolina facility to support commercial 787 production.

If the company does not send KC-46A work to Wichita it will cause severe problems with its relations to that state’s Congressional delegation which has in the past been very supportive of Boeing. The next few months could be very interesting for the company, the U.S. aerospace industry and Kansas.

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Air Force Continues Commitment to KC-46A

At a recent conference the Air Force Secretary, Mr. Michael Donley, discussed the key programs for the Air Force’s future. Facing a declining budget situation the Air Force as all of the services may be forced to choose which investments have a higher priorities then others. Not surprisingly the keys for the Air Force will be the F-35, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), space and the KC-46A tanker.

The KC-46A currently being developed by Boeing (BA) will go into service later this decade to replace the aging KC-135 fleet. In terms of total cost it is one of the largest current defense programs. If the Air Force follows through with the first 170 odd aircraft the cost will be about $35 billion. There are plans to buy another 300 or more.

If there are as significant reductions to the defense budget as being discussed then the KC-46A like so many other programs may see quantities cut. This could be either the total procured or the annual buys. It could also see it being maintained at the expense of other investment programs such as new UAV or space programs.

Tankers are a key force multiplier for the United States. Declining amounts of strike assets increase the reliance on the tanker fleet. The need for the KC-46A is well established and it is a program now that the commitment to Boeing has been made that the U.S. really cannot afford to reduce. Whether this holds true remains to be seen.

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Rockwell Collins Plans for KC-X Delay

Rockwell Collins (COL) had a good fourth quarter when they announced their most recent earnings. Overall revenue was up almost eight percent and profit twelve. Like most defense contractors though the company is planning for rougher times ahead as the U.S. defense budget declines.

Rockwell is part of Boeing’s (BA) team bidding for the KC-X new aerial tanker and the CEO, Clay Jones, said as part of the earnings release that they expect the contract award to be delayed.

Expectations were that it would be announced early next month but there have been consistent rumors and stories that this will be pushed off at least a few months as the Air Force evaluates EADS’ (EADS:P) and Boeing’s submissions.

The Air Force has been trying to buy a new tanker to replace the aging KC-135 aircraft now for most of this century. The current competition represents the third attempt and the second using competitive bids.

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Congress’ Right To Interfere In Contract

Recently according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA) addressed a local union meeting. Dicks is now the Chair of the defense appropriations sub-committee due to the death of Congressman Murtha (D-PA). This is the place where the defense budget begins its process for approval in the Congress.

Dicks supposedly talked about the new KC-X Tanker contract expressing concern that the U.S. Air Force would make allowances for EADS (EADS:P) to help them be able to bid. Dicks hoped that EADS would not bid leaving the way open for Boeing to win the deal.

Since right now Dicks controls how the entire Air Force budget is built it behooves the service to listen to him. At the same time they want a modicum of competition for the the third attempt to buy this key aircraft. Dicks represents a state that relies on Boeing (BA) to provide lots of good union jobs. He should support them — but not to the point of influencing the Air Force’s decision. Source selection should be based on what contract proposal best meets the requirements at the best price. Sole sourcing a contract of this size historically has led to cost and schedule overruns.

That doesn’t mean that Boeing will not be able to deliver, just a consideration that must be taken by everyone: Defense officials, industry and Congress.

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KC-X Tanker RFP Out In February

At a recent press availability the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, General Schwartz, said that he expects the final RFP for the KC-X contest to be released next month. He also stated that it will be little changed from the draft RFP. Both Northrop (NOC) and Boeing (BA) have been submitting questions and comments on the draft RFP and some of these will be addressed in the final one. The RFP will be released a few weeks after the 2011 Defense Budget goes to Congress which is planned for 2 February.

Schwarz did say that the final RFP may have changes based on recent comments by Northrop and its partner EADS (EADS:P) that they might not participate as they felt the RFP favored Boeing too much. Both groups had also commented on the use of a fixed price development contract and how it transferred too much risk to the contractor from the Government.

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