Another Blow for Wichita: Boeing’s Departure

After more than 80 years, storied Kansas factory closing.

Boeing KC-46A
Boeing KC-46A
Boeing KC-46A

Just when the city’s staggering job losses appeared at an end, Boeing on Wednesday announced plans to close its Wichita defense site next year and move tanker work that would have been performed there to Washington state. The decision will mean the elimination of positions for more than 2,000 workers.

The company had said in November that it was “evaluating” the future of its Wichita facility due to anticipated military spending cuts. It met with its employees in Wichita on Wednesday morning to confirm the factory's closure.

Boeing had long said Wichita would become the completion facility for next-generation KC-46 aerial refueling tankers should the company win a U.S. Air Force contract worth $35 billion to replace the current fleet of tankers. It said landing the contract would mean 7,500 jobs for Kansas, including several hundred at Boeing Wichita. But after winning the tanker bid last February, Boeing began to reassess its options.

The company said it chose to pull up stakes in Wichita "to reduce costs, increase efficiencies and drive competitiveness" in preparation for expected defense cuts. Boeing now says it will build the 767-based tankers at its Everett, Washington, facility as part of an agreement with its machinists union. Future aircraft maintenance, modification and support work will move to Boeing’s facility in San Antonio, Texas, while engineering work will shift to the Boeing facility in Oklahoma City.

Boeing's Kansas factory has been in operation since 1929. During World War II it was the site of B-29 Stratofortress production with nearly 30,000 workers at its peak. Today, the company employs about 2,160 there. Layoffs, said Boeing, will start in this year’s second half.