Vying for air refueling tanker work
U.S. Armed Forces bases face realignment and potential closure due to the need for considerable reductions in the defense budget. Air Force officials are facing the elimination of more than 280 aircraft and 9,900 personnel. Washington state and Spokane officials, including those in the Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium (INWAC) in Spokane, are vying to bring work on the KC-46A air refueling tanker to Fairchild Air Force Base, minutes from downtown Spokane (and my office, incidentally).
Boeing’s contract to deliver 179 tankers to replace aging KC-135 aerial refueling tankers, is valued at more than $30 billion. The company is scheduled to deliver 18 planes to the Air Force in 2017. The Air Force bases to receive the KC-46As are yet to be named, but Washington and Fairchild officials are hopeful.
The KC-135 is flown by units at Fairchild Air Force Base, which, at one time, was scheduled to be the first base to receive replacement tankers.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) has said that building a new tanker is a victory for Fairchild. "Right now the men and women at Fairchild are flying air refueling tankers that are more than 50 years old."
The KC-46 tanker team, which Boeing officials announced in June 2011, is expected to include more than 800 suppliers in more than 40 states and support approximately 50,000 total U.S. jobs. Doubtless, Spokane and Fairchild Air Force Base could benefit from work on the tankers.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, expecting the contract to bring roughly 11,000 aerospace jobs to the state, is a proponent of making training available at community colleges to ensure local residents are qualified for the work. “If they don’t find the skilled work force in the state, they’ll bring them in from out of state,” she said.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who has championed Boeing tanker replacement plans for more than a decade, called the contract a “major victory” for American workers, the aerospace industry, and the military. "It is consistent with the president’s own call to out-innovate and out-build the rest of the world," she said.
Officials at the Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium, which employs 8,100 people, note that more than 20 local companies could supply parts for the new plane.