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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Leaders promote Fairchild as ideal site for new tankers

A major lobbying push is under way for Fairchild Air Force Base to receive the first of the next-generation aerial refueling tankers.

Washington’s congressional delegation, along with state and legislative leaders, sent letters this week to Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley describing Fairchild as an ideal choice, both strategically and fiscally, for the first KC-46A tanker squadron.

“Fairchild Air Force Base has been a historic part of our nation’s aerial refueling effort and is well-suited to achieve global-level reach to the emerging Asia-Pacific theater,” Washington’s nine representatives and two senators said in their joint letter to Donley. “The base is a strategic staging platform supporting the rapid worldwide global mobility mission with access to a number of aerial refueling routes while minimizing transit fuel consumption.”

Gov. Chris Gregoire, along with legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle, sent a joint letter as well.

The new aircraft will replace at least a third of the Air Force’s aging KC-135 fleet, the backbone of the U.S. military’s ability to quickly get troops and equipment anywhere in the world.

The Air Force has tried to upgrade the Eisenhower-era tanker fleet for nearly a decade, enduring several setbacks after a series of bidding and procurement missteps. At one point, Fairchild was identified as one of the bases that would receive some of the first replacement planes, but that commitment unraveled when the project had to be sent out for new round of bidding.

“It’s been a discussion in the past, so we’re bringing up issues we think people should be taking a look at,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, said of the delegation’s push for Fairchild. “It’s important not just for the economic issues for Spokane and the region but for the strategic mission.”

Spokane business leaders have been actively pushing Fairchild as a home base for the first of the new tankers to be deployed.

“It’s very consistent, particularly with Boeing building the new tankers,” said Rich Hadley, chief executive officer of Greater Spokane Inc., the region’s chamber of commerce. “It would be very strategic and logical.”

The push comes as the Air Force begins its process for deciding where the new planes should be based.

Fairchild is home to the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the 141st Washington Air National Guard Air Refueling Wing.

Staff reporter Jim Camden contributed to this article.