Company Scrambling To Salvage T-46 Plane After Senate Setback
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) _ The Senate vote to scrap production of the T-46 pilot trainer that employs hundreds at the Fairchild Republic Co. on Long Island was not surprising and was just one dogfight in a continuing war to produce the plane, officials said Friday.
″This is another log rolling down on us that we’ll have to avoid,″ said U.S. Rep. Thomas J. Downey, D-N.Y.
The Senate voted 79-to-14 Thursday to drop the trainer program two months after the U.S. Air Force killed a $3.2 billion plan to build 650 T-46 planes.
The Air Force said the T-46 had performed well in test flights, but ″schedule delays and manufacturing problems, coupled with lack of affordability, made this decision necessary.″
The loss was expected in the Senate, where Majority Leader Robert Dole, R- Kan., has said he would prefer that the current jet trainer, the T-37, be upgraded by Cessna Aircraft Co. of Wichita, Kan.
Dole, in New York for an appearance before the Association for a Better New York, did not flatly say that Thursday’s vote marked the end of the T-46.
But he said: ″The vote was 79 to 14, so it seems to be in some trouble. It wasn’t a Kansas versus New York issue. I didn’t say a word. I just voted.″
George Thune, spokesman for the Farmingdale-based company employing 3,500 people on Long Island, said the vote was no surprise.
″We knew there would be tough sledding in the Senate,″ he said. ″We’re pretty confident the House will go along with the program.
″The key point here is that nothing is set in concrete,″ he said. ″There are so many variations, so many possibilities that can be arrived at, that there’s no point in getting ourselves locked in concrete over one issue.″
Thune said in a recent interview that the company was considering pushing options in which the Air Force could buy a small quantity of the planes, thus putting the T-46 on the U.S. military inventory, which would make the plane enticing to countries that have already expressed interest.
″We just want to keep the program moving,″ said Thune, who declined to elaborate on that option Friday. ″A scaled-down production would allow us to sell to foreign military markets.″
The interested countries include South Korea and European and West Asian countries, he said.
″That’s one reason why we’re fighting so hard,″ he said. ″These foreign governments are ready and waiting for us.″
Bill Fulwider, spokesman for Fairchild Industries Inc. in Chantilly, Va., said the corporate headquarters did not want to speculate about the future of the program or the jobs at stake.
In the past, Fairchild officials have said the Long Island plant could be closed if the program is scrapped.
″We’re looking at the situation,″ he said.
He did confirm that several countries have shown interest in the plane.
″But historically, military aircraft have not been sold very much overseas unless they’re in the U.S. Air Force inventory,″ he said.