WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The machinists union for Hawker Beechcraft is trying to block the proposed sale of the struggling aircraft manufacturer to a Chinese company, contending it would give China access to technology it doesn't yet possess and would saddle American taxpayers with paying the Wichita-based company's underfunded pension obligations.
Thus far, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has had little success rallying support in Washington, including from Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo, who represents Wichita's district, and Kansas' two Republican senators, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.
The senators ignored repeated requests for comment on the issue. Pompeo told The Associated Press that the sale of the Hawker Beechcraft, which filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year amid massive debt, could preserve thousands of jobs at its Kansas and Arkansas plants.
"It is very difficult to challenge these kinds of things without the delegation from the home state stepping up," said Matthew McKinnon, the union's legislative and political director.
Hawker Beechcraft, which filed for bankruptcy protection in May, announced this month that it had reached a court-approved $1.79 billion "exclusivity agreement" to negotiate with Superior Aviation Beijing Co., Ltd., for the sale of its business jet and general aviation operations. Hawker said Superior would make Hawker its flagship investment, maintain its U.S. headquarters, management team and employees and continue product development throughout its lines. During the 45-day exclusivity period, Superior would pay to support Hawker's ongoing operations. Once a deal is agreed, the sale would be subject to a bankruptcy court auction.
Sixty percent of Superior Aviation is owned by Chinese industrialist Shenzong Cheng and his wife, Qin Wang. The remaining 40 percent is owned by a company controlled by the Beijing municipal government.
Cheng has said little about the proposed purchase of Hawker Beechcraft, other than that Superior has no plans to relocate or terminate any manufacturing facilities or product lines. But another of his companies, after forming a joint venture with a Texas helicopter maker in 2009, moved all manufacturing to China, leaving only its parts and services department in Texas.
With the Hawker negotiations ongoing, the union worries that Superior ultimately would move at least some of Hawker's U.S. manufacturing operation to China, to cut costs.
McKinnon said the union has sent letters to members of Congress and other federal regulatory agencies, and has been meeting with congressional staffs to voice its concerns over the potential security implications of the sale of Hawker Beechcraft to Superior.