Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who leads the state long known for its aerospace presence, is hoping for a rebound after ’s recently announced departure.
Aviation in Kansas was once dominated by Boeing’s presence and the dominance of general aviation (GA) companies including, and ’s . But since Boeing’s devastating move to exit, the market there is changing, Brownback maintains.
Withbeginning to make freighters in Alabama, the European company is also establishing a presence in Kansas. And, thanks to a series of local and state incentives, Bombardier recently broke ground on an expansion of its Learjet facilities in Wichita as it spools up production of its new Learjet 85 composite aircraft. Bombardier has said it expects to add up to 1,000 jobs there over the next decade.
Add to that the promise of an increase in Boeing’s supply purchases in the state, and the picture of aviation in Kansas holds new promise, Brownback claims.
“It’s a market in transition. It used to be GA and Boeing was Wichita. We had 60% of [the] GA market and Boeing,” Brownback tells Aviation Week. “Now what it is, is you’ve got GA, a huge supplier chain that’s in it and the presence of all three of the big guys, Airbus Bombardier and Boeing. It’s a broader, deeper marketplace today.”
Brownback doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that the loss of Boeing, which had a strong presence in Kansas for 80 years, weighed heavily on the marketplace. Boeing’s move is taking 2,000 jobs with it. Add that to the 13,000 jobs already lost in Wichita alone with the prolonged downturn in the business and general aviation market. And, financially troubled Hawker Beechcraft has issued two more rounds of layoffs totaling nearly 500 more jobs in recent months.
But in a global business, losing a headquarters isn’t the end of all business, Brownback stresses, saying Boeing will increase its supply business in Kansas. Boeing spends $3.2 billion now, but within two to three years will do close to $5 billion in business there due to the increase in 737 production.
“Ironically, we’ll have the Airbus nameplate in Wichita and Bombardier but not Boeing, who will be the biggest player in aviation in the states,” Brownback says. “I’m hopeful maybe they will do something to continue to have a nameplate in Wichita.”
With a $5 billion investment in the supplier base, he adds, it’s hard to be too critical. “But you hate losing the nameplate.”
The rise of China and India may provide more competition for aerospace business, but Brownback adds that they also provide an opportunity to sell high-end technology to customers who only now have the capital and the need for them. And as wages rise in other countries, some of the jobs that once migrated to Mexico and elsewhere are coming home to rural Kansas, he says.
During the Farnborough air show, Brownback has been busily meeting with suppliers and executives, talking with Boeing about trying to maintain its Kansas roots, as well as talking with Hawker Beechcraft Chairman Bill Boisture about the proposed sale of HBC to the Chinese company Superior Aviation. The potential $1.79 billion deal would not involve the Hawker Beechcraft Defense Company. Brownback acknowledges that there could be concerns at the federal level with the sale. And while he is still studying the proposed deal, it could provide exactly what Kansas is looking for: more jobs.