Civic leaders anxious for KC-46 decision

Published On: May 21 2013 03:47:58 PM PDT   Updated On: May 21 2013 06:54:57 PM PDT
KC-135 Image
SPOKANE, Wash. -

Spokane business and civic leaders are anxiously awaiting an anticipated announcement Wednesday as to which Air Force Bases could be home to the KC-46A tanker.

Fairchild Air Force Base is one of four bases under consideration for being the first in the Air Force fleet to bed down the next generation tanker, which will replace the Eisenhower-era KC-135 Stratotanker.

The other bases under consideration are Altus AFB in Oklahoma, McConnell AFB in Kansas and Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota.

Altus is home to the 97th Air Mobility Wing, which flies a mix of C-17 transports and KC-135 tankers, while McConnell and Fairchild are home to air refueling wings -- the 2nd ARW at McConnell and the 92nd at Fairchild -- which exclusively fly KC-135 tankers. Grand Forks, which has been host to both ICBM squadrons and a bomb wing in the past, stood down from flight operations when its tankers were reassigned to other units in a realignment move 2010.

Air Force officials are expected to announce Wednesday which of the four bass will be one of the first to receive the new KC-46 tankers, which bring with them the potential for new construction and jobs.

Fairchild AFB already pumps $1.2 billion into the local economy and employs near 6,000 people.

If the Air Force decides to station its next generation tanker here, it would be Spokane's most significant economic get in more than a decade.

"Because it's a bigger aircraft, the aircrew compliment is different, it will add some personnel and it ensures, I think, Fairchild's future," Rich Hadley with Greater Spokane Incorporated said.

The aircrew for the KC-46A is the same as the KC-135, with two pilots and a boom operator, but also carries 15 seats for additional crewmembers as needed.

A KC-46 assignment could mean some big changes for Fairchild like, for example new construction projects to accommodate the new tankers.

"If the decision is made for us tomorrow then following that will be military construction funding, somewhere between $150 and $190 million dollars to be spent in only two years to get the base ready for the new planes," Hadley said.

The KC-767s will roll off the production line in Everett, with the Air Force planning to purchase 179 aircraft to replace the KC-135. As of 2010, the Air Force was flying 417 KC-135s.

Fairchild's proximity to the military hot spots around the Pacific Ocean make Spokane a top contender for the KC-46 mission.

"We are on all of the refueling routes for the Asia Pacific, where the Department of Defense is now focusing, so we have a strategic location, we have a modern facility and a brand new runway," Hadley said. "We don't have tornadoes, we don't have floods or hurricanes. We are very safe. That's a big deal."