Tanker announcement met with disappointment in Mississippi - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Tanker announcement met with disappointment in Mississippi


By Sylvia Hall – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) – An aerospace project once hailed as an economic victory in the South is off the table.  Northrop Grumman announced Monday the company has dropped out of a bid for a $35 billion Air Force contract to build KC 45 refueling tankers. 

This is a drastic change from 2007, when the entire Gulf Coast region celebrated Northrop Grumman and their partner EADS winning the deal, and plans were announced to build a production facility near Mobile, Alabama. Shortly afterward, the Department of Defense threw out the decision and announced they would re-bid the project on grounds the Air Force mishandled the original bidding requirements.

"It's sad," said David Pipkins, a Northrop Grumman employee.  "I think that the first time when we bid on it and our bid was good and it was fair.  And I think that we should have gotten it."

In a written statement, Northrop Grumman officials said they won't resubmit a bid because of new requirements that heavily favor a smaller refueling tanker built by their rival, Boeing.

"We continue to believe that Northrop Grumman's tanker represents the best value for the military and taxpayer- a belief supported by the selection of the A330 tanker design over the Boeing design in the last five consecutive tanker competitions around the globe," said Northrop Grumman CEO and President Wes Bush.

That leaves the Gulf Coast without the thousands of new jobs this project was expected to create.

"The economy is slowing down, this area really needs that," said Justin Mitchell, who also works at Northrop Grumman.

In a statement, Senator Roger Wicker said the process "clearly stacked the deck for Boeing's smaller, less capable plane."  He added, "I don't blame Northrop Grumman for refusing to participate in what would have been a charade."

Jackson County Economic Development Foundation President George Freeland agrees with Wicker.

"We appreciate the fact that at the end of the day, the company has an obligation to its shareholders, as well as the more than 200 potential suppliers around this country that would have supported the project had it been located at the Brookley facility."

Although the actual facility would not have been located in South Mississippi, Freeland said the news was still a big disappointment to the area, as it would have opened the door for suppliers and other companies to invest in South Mississippi.  He said the news doesn't close the door for other aerospace developments in the future.

"We'll continue to focus on this sector because all ingredients are in place in this region," Freeland said.  "If all ingredients weren't here to begin with, I don't think we'd be having this conversation."

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