Boeing today announced the closure of all defence and space operations in Wichita, Kansas, within two years, a decision instantly criticised by local politicans as an act of betrayal.

Boeing decided to close its 82-year-old Wichita base and lay-off or transfer 2,160 employees after a "thorough study" launched in the third quarter last year. The study showed that Boeing's aircraft repair and upgrade work in Wichita was no longer competitive and should be merged with San Antonio, said Mark Bass, a Boeing vice president.

Over the next two years, Boeing will transfer Wichita's three major programmes - KC-46A tankers, B-52H bombers and executive military aircraft - to other sites. A portion of the engineering workforce on the bombers and executive transports will move to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Meanwhile, some of the machinists will be transferred to San Antonio.

But the most controversial move was Boeing's decision to transfer the work of finishing the KC-46A from Wichita to the Seattle area. Only a few years ago, Boeing enticed Kansas' elected officials to support the company's bid for the US Air Force tanker contract with promises of planting thousands of jobs in Wichita.

"It is a confession that it will not honor its commitment to Kansas," said Representative Mike Pompeo. "Boeing's statement confirms that it will indeed break years and years of promises."

Boeing emphasised that despite the closure of dedicated facilities in Wichita the company will still spend heavily on its Kansas supply chain. Last year, the company invested more than $3.2 billion on local companies.

But that did not satisfy state and local elected officials.

"Do not be fooled by Boeing's announcement that it will continue to rely on sub-supplier work in Kansas," Pompeo said. "That work in no way substitutes for the decade of promises made by [Boeing] with regard to defense work on the KC-46A tanker at the Boeing-Wichita facility."

A few years, Boeing's pledge to finish KC-46As in Wichita was a timely boost to the city's crippled aviation cluster, which promotes itself as the "air capital of the world".

The city's largest aviation manufacturers include Hawker Beechcraft, Bombardier's Learjet division and Textron's Cessna subsidiary - all focus on the small cabin business jet market. This became the hardest hit sector in the aviation business in the aftermath of the 2008 global economic downturn.

As a result, Wichita has lost more than 12,700 aerospace manufacturing jobs during the last four years, according to the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University.

The market for repair and overhaul work on military aircraft has also declined significantly within the last 18 months, Bass said.

"If you look at military [maintenance, repair and overhaul] - the market is flat or declining," Bass said. "That's what this facility supports. MRO is very competitive. We compete against some small companies. We decided that business would continue to erode in Wichita."

Source: Flight International