Aug. 26--A week before this month's primary election, executives from Wichita's biggest aircraft companies signed a letter endorsing Rep. Todd Tiahrt in his Senate bid.
The letter -- signed by Cessna Aircraft CEO Jack Pelton, Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture, Spirit AeroSystems CEO Jeff Turner, Bombardier Learjet vice president and general manager David Coleal and Boeing Wichita site leader Steve Wade -- called Tiahrt a "true advocate for the aerospace industry and jobs in our state."
The company officials in their letter cited several examples of Tiahrt's work on aviation issues over the years.
Last week, the business leaders attended a luncheon with Rep. Jerry Moran, who beat Tiahrt in the primary.
"I wanted them to know that (I) was very interested in aviation and manufacturing in the Wichita business community," said Moran, who requested the meeting.
Moran said he holds no hard feelings about their endorsement of his opponent.
"There's nothing wrong with a group of local business folks supporting their local congressman," Moran said. "I understand the loyalty."
Pelton has had multiple meetings with Moran over the past few months.
"I personally was up front with Jerry, saying Todd has been here in our district; he's supported us brilliantly. I'm going to give Todd the nod," Pelton said.
He also told him, "If you beat Todd, we need you. We need your support and hope that you also realize how important our industry is for Kansas as a Senator."
It's important that the state's elected officials understand the aerospace and general aviation industries, which employ thousands in Kansas, the executives say.
At the meeting with Moran, they discussed industry concerns, such as the need for reinstatement of bonus depreciation to stimulate sales, the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and a need for access to lower interest rates for business jet customers.
"Right now that's very, very difficult," Pelton said. "We get stories of people with perfect credit ratings or successful businesses, and the terms are either bad or they just can't get capital."
In the endorsement letter, the executives noted that Tiahrt was successful in getting bonus depreciation signed into law after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Tiahrt also filed an amendment to the bailout bill in 2008 that removed a provision that would require businesses to sell their corporate aircraft before getting bailout money.
He also talked to members of Congress who spoke out against the use of business jets.
And he led a charge saying a U.S. Air Force tanker should be built by a U.S. company after the Air Force awarded a tanker contract to Northrop Grumman for Airbus aircraft.
"We need to make sure that (kind of support) continues," said Bombardier's Coleal. "If (Moran) becomes an advocate of aviation, we're going to be behind him. We need folks that will support this community and support aviation."
Spirit AeroSystems spokeswoman Debbie Gann said the company relied more on Tiahrt than on Moran because he is from this area.
"When you represent the Fourth District, aviation is a huge part of your business base," Gann said. "It's the lifeblood that fuels so many of the jobs in your area."
Spirit has received strong support, however, from the state's entire Congressional delegation. And Spirit's Political Action Committee contributed to Moran's and Tiahrt's campaigns in the primary.
"We have no doubt that whoever ends up in that office in November will represent our industry as well," Gann said.
Boeing supports candidates who champion issues important to the company, said Boeing spokesman Jarrod Bartlett.
The Wichita site is looking forward to working with the next senator and the entire Kansas delegation to promote a strong business environment, Bartlett said.
Lisa Johnston, Moran's Democratic opponent, said she has not met with Wichita's aviation executives, but she would like the opportunity.
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U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt said he will introduce legislation today that will make promotion of the aviation industry part of the Federal Aviation Administration's duties again.