A pair of Democratic U.S. senators representing New York held a call Thursday with the U.S. Secretary of the Air Force, encouraging her to prioritize the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station as considerations are made for new military missions for fiscal year 2017.
In a joint release, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand said they spoke with U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Debra Lee James and asked her to consider the air base as the next home for KC-135 tankers. Schumer and Gillibrand said, until 2008, the KC-135 was flown out of NFARS and still has infrastructure that would allow it to take on the mission again as the Air Force deploys the new KC-46A tanker and looks for new locations to house the KC-135s that are being relocated.
"The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station fulfils a key role in our nation's security and provides many good-paying jobs to the residents of Western New York. This base has it all -- the existing infrastructure, the strategic location and the first-class workforce -- and that makes it the clear choice to be the next home for the USAF's KC-135 tanker fleet. The K-135s would enhance the NFARS mission for the next two decades as the USAF tanker fleet is upgraded," Schumer said.
In addition to being a cost-effective option, Schumer and Gillibrand argued that the Niagara Falls base's strategic location near five border crossings (with Canada), five potential refueling routes, and a large contingent of potential customers makes it a very strong choice to better serve the Air Force.
NFARS is a joint location, hosting both the Air Force Reserve and National Guard. The base's current fleet only includes the C-130H aircraft, which have been flown extensively over a number of years, and the MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft. Technological upgrades have paved the way for a newer model of tankers, the KC-46A, to become prominently featured in the fleets at other bases.
Schumer and Gillibrand said the air base would be the most logical home for the KC-135, which it has already flown in the past, as the Air Force looks to deploy the KC-46A and redeploy the existing KC-135 fleet. Schumer and Gillibrand said the base features infrastructure associated with housing tankers, including a $26 million dollar aircraft refueling system. This would make the transition of these aircraft to Niagara Falls easy and financially beneficial to the Air Force.
Schumer and Gillibrand said that the base's location would allow these tankers to refuel other military aircraft flying out of any base in the northeastern United States. This would increase the operational capability of the air base, allowing for a greater number and wider variety of missions to be flown out of the region.
The senators said the base is also the largest employer in Niagara County, employing 2,600 people, with a total economic impact of more than $143 million annually, and adding aircraft to the base's arsenal would only help to increase its local economic contribution.
The base functions as a joint military and civilian use international airport with the military providing snow removal, maintenance support, fire crash and rescue and weather support. Placing additional aircraft at NFARS would dramatically increase the amount of jobs and opportunities for tourism in the Buffalo-Niagara area, the senators said.