Fairchild Air Force Base’s long-term future – past 2040 – remains a mystery after the base was once again passed over as a site for the new KC-46A tankers.
In 2013, it appeared as if the base finished second when the first 33 refueling tankers were assigned to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. The base was labeled “a reasonable alternative,” so community leaders felt good about the base’s chances for the second round.
Then parameters that were favorable to Fairchild changed when the Air Force opened up the competition to some smaller bases that housed the KC-10 Extender, which had fallen out of favor because they’re larger and cost more to operate. And two of them – Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey and Travis Air Force Base in California – were announced as the “preferred locations” on Thursday, just hours ahead of a scheduled public meeting in Spokane about the process.
As it turned out, the meeting was about Fairchild’s eligibility for runner-up duties – much like a beauty pageant – should one of the preliminary winners be disqualified during the environmental-impact phase of the competition.
Like most matters connected with the Air Force, the reason for the awkward timing of the announcement is a mystery. Other such meetings around the country are scheduled, but could be canceled.
Political leaders from the congressional delegation weren’t amused.
“I’m outraged at the manner in which this process was run and I do not consider this case closed,” Sen. Patty Murray said in a statement.
“I am disappointed that Fairchild was not selected to receive these new tankers, and I continue to have questions about whether changes to the basing process unfairly disadvantaged Fairchild,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said.
Local leaders appeared more sanguine, pivoting from the prospect of landing the new tankers to the possibility of getting more of the old ones. It does appear that this silver lining could be a reality. Air Force officials have indicated that as many as 25 more KC-135 tankers could be headed Fairchild’s way during a reshuffling. That would boost the number to 60.
If true, that would increase the number of jobs at Fairchild and give the local economy a shot in the arm. That is, until the KC-135s are phased out. The Air Force expects to keep some in service through 2040.
Clearly, landing the new tankers would’ve helped solidify the base’s future, which is always a concern. The good news is that there’s been no announcement of a new round of base closings.
The lack of certitude is frustrating, as are changes in the process. Communities make critical decisions aimed at preserving bases but are left to speculate about whether it matters.
Nonetheless, the process has shown that Fairchild is held in high regard. And if the base’s operations expand with the addition of KC-135s, then this disappointment will be short-lived.
To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”
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