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Campaign begins to land new tankers at Fairchild

Mon., Jan. 9, 2012, 3:04 p.m.

This artist's rendering provided by Boeing Co. shows Boeing's NewGen Tanker that the Chicago-based company will build for the U.S. Air Force. The new airborne refueling tankers will replace the Air Force's Eisenhower-era KC-135's.  (AP/Boeing)
This artist's rendering provided by Boeing Co. shows Boeing's NewGen Tanker that the Chicago-based company will build for the U.S. Air Force. The new airborne refueling tankers will replace the Air Force's Eisenhower-era KC-135's. (AP/Boeing)

Production of a new fleet of Boeing air refueling tankers could bring more jobs and investment to Spokane, officials said today.

The first in the new fleet of KC-46A tankers will roll out of Boeing’s Everett plant in 2017.

State and local leaders want those first tankers sent to nearby Fairchild Air Force Base.

Greater Spokane Inc. today kicked off a campaign it is calling Fairchild First – a public information effort to get the new tankers here. Leaders held a rally this morning at GSI’s business center in downtown Spokane to underline the effort.

The new tankers will replace the 1950s-era KC-135s, a familiar sight in the skies over Spokane. They also were built by Boeing.

“The end of one mission is the beginning of the next,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., during the kickoff.

Murray said the Fairchild First effort is intended to “make sure the Pentagon realizes that the first place for the first planes off the assembly line is only a short flight away.”

She said, “The assets this region provides are the best.”

Murray was joined by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and local leaders.

Murray and Cantwell explained that Fairchild is a key asset to the Air Force and a perfect site for stationing the first new tankers. It has seen more than $400 million of investment in upgrades and new facilities, including a new runway and approach system.

In addition, Murray said, she and other officials are promoting Fairchild as a logical location for a training facility for the new tanker.

However, the Air Force has not given much indication yet of how it plans to bring the tankers on line. Murray said the Air Force in March will announce selection criteria for deciding the locations for the new tankers.

In a long-running competition with a European consortium, Boeing last year won the contract to build 179 “new generation” replacement tankers at a cost of $35 billion.

The tanker will come from a modified Boeing 767 air frame, but will also have a digital flight deck developed for the Boeing 787.

Cantwell noted that workers at the Everett plant were instrumental in building plant modifications so work could be done there.

In addition to the contract with Boeing, the Air Force also would spend an estimated $200 million to prepare a base for the new tankers, Cantwell said.

Fairchild is ideally located on the flight paths to Asia as well as being close to other major flight routes, she said.

Cantwell has been pushing for development of the military and civilian aerospace industries across Washington, including in Spokane.

Dave Carlson, a union steelworker at Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp, said the Boeing tanker contract is providing job security for Kaiser workers.

“We’re noted for getting our metal out on time and in good quality,” he said.

Kaiser and its related business employ nearly 1,000 workers in Spokane, Carlson said. “We’re talking good-paying jobs,” he said.

In addition to promoting Fairchild for the tankers, local officials are also working to get 1,000 acres of industrial land ready for development, said Rich Hadley, president and CEO of GSI.

That includes creation of a new zoning map to allow additional building heights in areas near the airport and air base, but not in the crucial flight approaches extending from the ends of the runways. Outside the flight path control zones, buildings would be allowed up to 150 feet.

Spokane County Commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on the new airport overlay zone at 5:30 p.m. today at the Commissioners’ Hearing Room in the Public Works Building, 1026 E. Broadway Ave. A decision is expected at a later date.



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