A new generation of air refueling tankers, the KC-X, is on its way, and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington is working to ensure some of those planes find their way to Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane.
McMorris Rodgers joined a delegation of city and county leaders and representatives from Greater Spokane Incorporated on a visit to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois on Wednesday.
“We had a very good visit,” she said. “The tankers at Fairchild Air Force Base provide the air bridge – they fly supplies and people and fuel – and some of the planes there right now are from the ‘50s and early ‘60s.”
Gen. Arthur Lichte, commander of the Air Mobility Command at Scott air base, is a former wing commander at Fairchild.
“He was very generous with his time,” McMorris Rodgers said. “He made it very clear that Fairchild plays a very important part in our global and national security.”
The first priority for the Air Force is to replace aging tankers in service, she said.
The contract is for 179 KC-X tankers, and by mid-February the Air Force is expected to pick a contractor. Boeing is in the running, as is the European manufacturer Airbus.
The first new tanker could arrive at Fairchild by 2011. Testing and training will take at least two years longer.
Fairchild remains the region’s largest employer.
“It’s an economic development priority for us at GSI to support our troops and their families,” said Rich Hadley, president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated, formerly the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke was part of the delegation. He serves on the board of Spokane International Airport and is working with Fairchild to clarify flight patterns and land use on the West Plains to ensure the two institutions can remain good neighbors.
When asked how the future looks for Fairchild, McMorris Rodgers said, “We were assured that Fairchild will be around for a very long time. The general brought that up several times.”
Lichte will return for the Spokane Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade on May 17.
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