Boeing will close its production facility in the US city of Wichita in response to looming defence cuts.
The closure of the Boeing Defense, Space and Security plant will cost 2160 workers their jobs and undercut Wichita’s claim as the aviation capital of the world, based in large part on the city’s longstanding relationship with Boeing.
Kansas lawmakers reacted angrily to the news, saying they had fought hard to help Boeing stave off competition from Airbus for a $35 billion contract to replace the US Air Force’s KC-135 tanker. The award of the contract had spurred hopes that Boeing would add jobs at the Wichita facility, but the work will instead go to Boeing factories in the Seattle area, Oklahoma City and Texas.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican, said Boeing had promised as recently as February to keep work in Wichita if it won the tanker contract.
The Wichita facility has been home to Boeing’s Global Transport and Executive systems and its B-52 and 767 International Tanker programs. In a statement, Boeing said contracts at the facility are winding down and the site lacks sufficient business prospects to create an affordable cost structure to win new business, especially as the US defence industry faces the prospect of deep budget cuts.
“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,” Mark Bass, vice president and general manager for BDS’ Maintenance, Modifications & Upgrades division, said in the statement.
Layoffs at the sprawling site, which includes 97 buildings, are expected to begin in the second half of the year, with the facility closing down by 2013.
At its height during World War 2, Boeing employed as many as 40,000 workers at the Wichita plant and remained the city’s largest employer for decades after the war. Boeing spun off its commercial aircraft operations in Kansas and Oklahoma in 2005 but kept some 4500 workers at its defence plant in Wichita. That number has since been whittled down by a series of layoffs, and Boeing had hinted in November that it would likely close the facility.