Fairchild and about 60 other Air Force bases will be scored on criteria such as cost, capacity and environmental concerns to decide which will get the first batch of new air refueling tankers.
That means the Air Force won’t limit its search for the first homes for new KC-46As to a base that currently has tankers, a spokeswoman for the secretary of the Air Force said Monday after the criteria were released.
Almost all bases in the continental United States will be scored on the criteria. The main criterion to make the first list of more than 60 potential homes?
“A runway,” said Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.
That’s not quite every base, just every base with airplanes.
From that most basic of necessities, the Air Force will consider other important details for a jet patterned after the Boeing 767 commercial airliner with a maximum takeoff capacity of about 200 tons. Among them are the capacity of the base’s fuel pumping system – a fill ’er up on the flying gas station is more than 31,000 gallons – plus available space on the runway, size of hangars, proximity to planes needing to be refueled, airspace availability, environmental considerations and costs.
The Air Force expects to have scores for all the bases under consideration sometime this summer, Stefanek said. It will then narrow the list further to a small group of top scorers from which the preferred site and reasonable alternatives will be chosen late this year. There’s no set number for the final cut, she added, just wherever there’s a natural break between top candidates and the rest of the field.
From that final list it will choose the first two bases to receive the planes after they roll off the assembly line in 2016, and the new training facility for those crews.
The Air Force began briefing members of Congress and posted the criteria briefly on its website Monday afternoon. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said she believes the criteria put Fairchild Air Force Base in a “very competitive position” to be an early home for the new planes, which will be built in Everett. “I’m confident that Fairchild’s long tanker history, strong community support and joint operations between the Active Duty and Guard place it in an ideal position to succeed.”
The West Plains base has a new runway and a new wing headquarters under construction, Murray said in an email. A letter from the state’s congressional delegation to Air Force leaders on how the base stacks up to the criteria could be sent as soon as today.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican whose district includes Spokane County, said in a news release that she planned to work with the Air Force to make sure Fairchild, which she said offers a “multitude of advantages,” is the first home for the new tanker.
Gov. Chris Gregoire’s staff is studying the criteria closely to determine how the base stacks up and might not reach a conclusion for a day or two, a spokesman said.
“The early indications are it puts Fairchild in a good spot,” said Cory Curtis, Gregoire’s communications director.