Macon’s Boeing to lose Chinook helicopter work, another 100 jobs

Telegraph staffFebruary 6, 2014 

The Boeing Co. is phasing out its work on the CH-47 Chinook helicopters in Macon, a body blow to the local manufacturing plant.

The news, given to workers at a meeting Thursday afternoon, comes on the heels of last fall’s announcement that the company was discontinuing its C-17 work.

The Chinook work will be phased out by early 2016 in Macon, said Boeing spokesman Ken Smith, who attended the meeting with workers.

In September 2013, Boeing announced it was shutting down its C-17 Globemaster production line, which impacts about 300 of the Macon plant’s roughly 500 workers.

Smith said the C-17 work is expected to end by the third or fourth quarter of 2015.

Combined, the Chinook and C-17 losses impact about 400 midstate jobs. That would leave only about 100 positions in Macon for building replacement wings for the A-10 Thunderbolt attack plane.

“This workforce has been good for the company,” Smith said. “They are productive people, and management felt that we needed to give them as much notice as possible so they could plan ahead for their futures.”

Some affected employees may have an opportunity to remain with Boeing.

Commercial airplane work is increasing in Charleston, S.C., and plant officials there said they would be interested in hiring employees from Macon as they become available, Smith said.

Boeing’s South Carolina plant assembles 787 Dreamliners for customers around the world, according to the company’s website. As of December 2011, that facility employed more than 5,000 people.

“For those interested in continuing a Boeing career, there is an opportunity for many of them to perhaps catch on in South Carolina,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, Boeing is working to secure additional A-10 work, Smith said.

“The A-10 (work) is currently funded and not affected by this announcement,” he said. “The Macon site will remain an important part of the Macon community for as long as the A-10 wing replacement program remains funded by the U.S. Air Force.”

There had been a move to phase out the A-10 by 2020, but that plan isn’t popular with ground troops who rely on the aircraft for close support. Retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon, president of the 21st Century Partnership, said a defense spending budget is due March 4, and that should provide more clarity on the future of the A-10.

“Anything before that would be pure speculation,” he said.

Smith said the current A-10 contract is extended until the middle of 2016, and Boeing is “aggressively pursuing additional A-10 contracts.”

Through his spokesman, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert expressed his disappointment at the downsizing.

“It’s certainly distressing here locally, but as we understand it, it’s based on national decisions, not on the quality of Macon-Bibb County,” Reichert said. “We have been working for several years to bring more and more jobs here, and this is a step back. ... We understand Boeing is looking for additional work, so if we can help them, we will.”

McMahon said the job loss from the C-17 was known, but he was disappointed by the Chinook announcement. The partnership works as an advocate for Robins Air Force Base and the aerospace industry in Middle Georgia.

“Boeing has been an integral part of our community for a number of years, and we hope that the Boeing leadership will find an opportunity to leverage the tremendous workforce we have there and will be able to continue that operation well into the future,” he said.

Pat Topping, senior vice president of the Macon Economic Development Commission, said his office and the state have been working with Boeing since September’s announcement about the C-17 work in Macon.

“The hope is that we can identify additional work packages to bring into that facility,” Topping said. “The community is behind Boeing, and we will do what we can to bring additional work here.”

The Boeing plant, at 1821 Avondale Mill Road, started out handling commercial airplane work, and perhaps that could be brought back.

“That’s the conversation we are having with Boeing,” Topping said.

Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said losing 400 jobs is a big blow, even if it is in another county.

“Anytime you lose that number of employees, it hurts not only the host county, but it hurts all of us,” he said. “I hope they can be replaced in the very near future with some new workload.”

The layoffs occurring over two years will help soften the blow, he said. “If it is spread out, it’s not going to be near as drastic,” he said. “There’s a good chance we can replace those with either some new workload at Boeing or some new industry.”

Robins Air Force Base performs overhaul maintenance on the C-17. Maintenance will continue for many years to come, so shutdown of the production of them won’t have a huge impact on the base. Primarily it means that personnel who had been focused on procurement are now involved in worldwide management of the aircraft.

The Chinook is a distinctive chopper with tandem rotors that’s used for movement of troops and artillery.

Smith is optimistic the Macon Boeing plant will survive in the long run.

“We’ve been here for more than 25 years, and we plan to be here for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Telegraph writer Andy M. Drury contributed to this report. To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223. To contact writer, Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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