Aviation officials turn to Moran

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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.

"Aviation is one of our primary industries in the state," Johnston said.

The next senator must be cognizant of that, she said. Kansas aviation companies must have a fair shot at contracts and be included in any bidding process, Johnston said.

She also is an advocate of fair trade policies, as opposed to free trade policies.

"We need to make sure that domestic companies aren't put at a disadvantage," Johnston said.

Aviation executives have also endorsed Mike Pompeo, the Republican nominee for Tiahrt's House seat.

"Collectively, we think Mike Pompeo understands our industry better than any of the candidates running today," Pelton said. "He came from our industry. He's taken the time to really dig into the issues associated with our industry. We think he would be a good transition to follow Todd."

Pompeo spent 10 years as a manufacturing executive.

Aviation is the backbone of south-central Kansas, Pompeo said.

"We've got to do everything we can to make sure we have as many manufacturing jobs and all that goes with it... all throughout Kansas," he said. "I understand what it takes to create jobs in the aircraft manufacturing industry, and I know what the federal government can do to make that impossible."

Raj Goyle , Pompeo's Democratic opponent, said he has a good relationship with the area's aviation executives and the industry. He said he is a supporter of the aviation industry as a member of the Kansas House of Representatives.

"These are serious times, and the aviation industry is in a crisis," he said. The city has lost more than 13,000 aviation jobs in the last two years.

"I intend to make that my absolute first priority if elected in November," Goyle said.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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