Don’t be surprised to see U.S. Air Force jets sharing the runway at Spokane International Airport.
Eight aerial refueling tankers will be temporarily based at Spokane International this year while repairs are made to Fairchild Air Force Base’s runway and flight line.
The rest of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing will be spending the year at Moses Lake, where the Air Force has rented gigantic hangars and other facilities at Grant County International Airport formerly used by Japan Airlines. The relocations began this week.
“This is a huge project involving many agencies across the base and in Moses Lake,” said Lt. Col. Jim O’Connell, who will command the detachment at Moses Lake. “The Moses Lake community has embraced this idea and has been working very closely with us to make this move seamless and effective.”
The $42.8 million flight line project, which includes refurbishing Fairchild’s runway, tarmac and taxi ways, is expected to be completed by November. The typical lifespan of an Air Force flight line is about 25 years, said Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski, the base public affairs officer. Fairchild’s flight line is more than 50 years old.
The Moses Lake airport is a former military airfield that for 40 years served as the primary Boeing 747 pilot training center for Japan Airlines. The airline closed its Moses Lake center in 2009, leaving acres of open tarmac and hangars suitable for housing and maintaining KC-135s.
“We’ve got plenty of space here,” said Craig Baldwin, the airport’s executive manager, explaining that the community is embracing the Air Force’s arrival – even if it’s just temporary. Fairchild expects to keep 12 to 16 tankers at Moses Lake through the end of the year, and that number could climb depending on how many aircraft remain deployed overseas. Dormitories at nearby Big Bend Community College have been rented to house the 200 airmen being sent to Moses Lake with the aircraft.
The base’s administrative operations are not affected by the move.
Fairchild’s runway shutdown will be a windfall for Moses Lake, and to a lesser extent Spokane International.
The rental agreement with the Grant County airport is just under $100,000 a month, and includes the use of two massive hangars, office space in the terminal and free-standing portables.
Spokane International will receive $16,767 per month from the Air Force for use of about 26 acres, including 19.8 acres of paved tarmac for the aircraft.
“We love it,” said Todd Woodard, spokesman for Spokane International. “We’ve had a long relationship here with the Air Force.”
The aircraft relocation also is affecting operations of the Fairchild-based 141st Air National Guard unit, which shares KC-135s with the 92nd.
“While this presents a challenge over the next 10 months, we are excited about the prospects of a refurbished runway,” said Col. Richard Kelly.
Unaffected by the flight line repairs is the Fairchild-based helicopter squadron, the 36th Rescue Flight, which will continue to operate from the base. Buzanowski said the squadron’s four UH1N Iroquois helicopters need considerably less pavement than the base’s tankers.