During a call with U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Debra Lee James, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand today urged her and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to prioritize the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station (NFARS) in Western New York as they consider bases for new missions and make plans for FY 2017. Specifically, the Senators urged the USAF to consider NFARS as the next home for KC-135 tankers. Schumer and Gillibrand explained that, until 2008, the KC-135 was flown out of NFARS and still has infrastructure that would allow it to take on this mission again as the USAF 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,” said Senator Schumer. “That is why I have urged Secretary of the Air Force Debra Lee James to bring this fleet back to its rightful home. And I will keep fighting tooth and nail to ensure that NFARS is selected for this mission, which will protect jobs in Niagara Falls, and enhance our national security.
“The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station plays a vital role in our national defense and supports jobs and the local economy in Western New York,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Bringing KC-135 tankers back to NFARS would be a strategic and cost effective decision by the Air Force that would help ensure the base continues to be an economic engine for years to come. I will continue pushing to ensure the Air Force selects NFARS and returns the KC-135 tanker fleet to Western New York.”
In addition to being a cost-effective option, Schumer and Gillibrand argued that NFARS’ 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 USAF. This push comes as the next step in a long campaign on the parts of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand to bring the KC-135 fleet back to NFARS.
NFARS is a joint location, hosting both the USAF 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 NFARS 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 explained that NFARS features infrastructure associated with housing tankers, including a $26 million dollar aircraft refueling system. This would make the transition of these aircraft to NFARS easy and financially beneficial to the USAF.
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 NFARS, allowing for a greater number and wider variety of missions to be flown out of the region. Schumer and Gillibrand explained that NFARS 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.
Therefore, during a personal call to the Secretary of the Air Force, Schumer and Gillibrand urged the Secretary James and the USAF to consider NFARS as a as a home for the KC-135, as the Defense Logistics Agency has reported that such a transition is possible, and that construction to alter NFARS’s existing tanker infrastructure would cause the USAF to incur far less costs than the building of another station.
Schumer and Gillibrand have long fought to bring the KC-135 tanker fleet back to NFARS. In July 2015, Schumer met with General McDew, the commander of the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) for the Air Force and urged him to support updating the base’s aircraft transport fleet as well as bring the KC-135 back to NFARS. As the commander of TRANSCOM, General McDew will play a leading role in the final decision over which “mission” – or aircraft unit – would be phased in by TRANSCOM. Schumer said that because many bases around the country have already upgraded most of their aircraft, NFARS should be next on the list for updates to its C-130 fleet and the return of the KC-135 fleet.
In October 2015, Schumer and Gillibrand then urged Lieutenant General James Jackson, Chief of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Reserve, to consider the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station (NFARS) as the next home for KC-135 tankers. In November 2015, Schumer personally met with General Everhart, Commander of the Air Mobility Command for the U.S. Air Force (USAF), and urged him to prioritize the NFARS in Western New York as they are considering bases for new missions. Finally, in December 2015, Schumer and Gillibrand announced that they secured a commitment from the Lieutenant General Jackson to visit NFARS in person.