Vying for air refueling tanker work

By Courtney Howard

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.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
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