St. Louis Public Radio News
6:16 pm
Wed May 13, 2009

Boeing lobbies Congress for St. Louis-made aircraft

St. Louis, MO – Boeing's defense unit - and its union members - have been lobbying Congress this week to reject proposed cuts in its C-17 and F/A-18 production lines.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants to cancel the C-17, parts of which are made in St. Louis. And he wants to buy just 31 St. Louis-built F/A-18 Superhornets next year - down from 45 this year.

Bruce Darrough with Boeing's local machinists union says the cuts don't make economic sense.

"We find that our aircraft have done everything that we've said it was going to do. We've been on cost, on quality, we can give you a better deal for your money and certainly everyone is watching money now in these economic downturns," Darrough said.

The union has both Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Kit Bond fighting for it in the Senate but neither is overly confident that Gates will change his mind. McCaskill says her meetings with Boeing, the Machinists Union and the Navy have convinced her that the F/A-18 makes more sense for the nation's defense.

"I could make the argument that this is a smarter policy move based on cost alone but the fact is that the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35, is not ready. The technology is not proven and it's not ready. And it's completely over budget," said McCaskill.

Bond calls the F-A 18 the "backbone of the Navy's tactical air fighters".

"It's a decision that could leave our Navy with empty carrier decks and it's also bad economic policy for St. Louis which could lose more than five-thousand jobs and thousands more on suppliers around the state," Bond said.

Boeing employs about 58-hundred workers on the C-17 and F/A-18 production lines. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on next year's budget on Thursday.