Standing at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station (NFARS) in Western New York, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today announced a major push to expand and update NFARS in preparation for the KC-135 tankers. In February, Schumer and Gillibrand announced that the U.S. Air Force (USAF) made the decision to transfer eight KC-135 tankers to NFARS, after their urging. Schumer and Gillibrand said that in anticipation of this transition, there are facility upgrades that still need to be made to accommodate the new fleet, including the conversion of the building that will house the KC-135 simulator. Schumer and Gillibrand said this simulator will be used to train new pilots.
“I am proud to have advocated for bringing the new KC-135 mission to NFARS,” said Senator Schumer. “This new mission will ensure the viability of the air reserve station, and protect the 2,600 jobs and the families who depend on them. The next step is ensuring that our reservists are mission-ready, and that means providing them with state-of-the-art training opportunities and equipment like the KC-135 simulator. I will be pushing hard to ensure that this simulator comes to NFARS.”
“It’s great news that the Air Force has decided to re-mission the 914th to a KC-135 tanker mission,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Now we need to work to bring a KC-135 simulator as well, so that units from all around the country can train for their missions at Niagara Falls. It makes perfect sense for these planes and this training tool to be based at NFARS, and I’ll keep fighting with Senator Schumer to make sure all of this is here to stay.”
Schumer and Gillibrand were joined by John Cooper of Niagara Military Affairs Council.
Schumer and Gillibrand also toured with the Lieutenant General James Jackson, Chief of Air Force Reserve. In December 2015, Schumer and Gillibrand secured commitment from Lieutenant General Jackson that he would visit NFARS, citing that it would be mutually beneficial to both the USAF and NFARS if Jackson saw the world-class facilities and top notch flight crews that makes this reserve station capable of taking on more missions.
Earlier this year, Schumer and Gillibrand announced the USAF would be transferring eight KC-135 tankers from the current fleet to NFARS, after they successfully urged the USAF’s top brass to prioritize returning the KC-135s to NFARS. The Senators long pushed for this, arguing that NFARS would be the most logical home for the KC-135, as it has already flown this fleet in the past. In addition to being a cost-effective option, Schumer and Gillibrand cited that the existing infrastructure and local workforce make this base the perfect fit for supporting additional transport and refueling aircraft missions. The Senators said that NFARS’ strategic location near five Canadian border crossings, five potential refueling routes, and a large contingent of potential customers made the base a strong choice to better serve the USAF. The base’s location will allow these tankers to refuel other military aircraft flying out of any base in the Northeastern United States.
Schumer and Gillibrand explained that this transition to the KC-135s means the removal of the current C-130H aircraft from the base. As a result, the USAF has budgeted $25.532 million in 2017 for NFARS’ conversion to the KC-135 aircraft. This is comprised of $16.3 million for the overhaul of fuel hydrants, fuel cell, maintenance back shop and simulator alterations required by the conversion from C-130H tactical airlift aircraft to KC-135 air refueling aircraft. In addition, $6.629 million will be used to increase flying hours to support the new KC-135 mission, and $2.603 million will be allocated for 27 new, full-time employees on the base in the year 2017.
However, Schumer and Gillibrand said there are two remaining items they are pushing for that need to be funded in order to make this transition seamless. These base expansions include the conversion of the current simulator building, which is presently slated to fit the needs of the C-130 aircraft but must be converted to fit the needs of a new KC-135 simulator. In addition, the base is awaiting construction of a fitness facility, which is scheduled to be built in 2021. Schumer and Gillibrand said these facility upgrades are vital for mission readiness and must be made sooner rather than later in order to prepare for the transfer to the KC-135s as well as create future jobs in Western New York.
NFARS is a joint United States Air force and National Guard location. NFARS is 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 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 will dramatically increase the amount of jobs and opportunities for tourism in the Buffalo-Niagara area.
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 successfully urged the General 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 played 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, which is now reality.
- In October 2015, Schumer and Gillibrand 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 mission.
- In December 2015, Schumer and Gillibrand announced that they secured a commitment from the Lieutenant General Jackson to visit NFARS in person.
- In January of this year, Schumer and Gillibrand called the Secretary of the Airforce Deborah Lee James and urged Secretary James and the USAF to consider NFARS as a as a home for the KC-135. Both Schumer and Gillibrand presented a clear case to why NFARS was the most logical base for the KC-135. Schumer and Gillibrand cited the Defense Logistics Agency’s report that such a transition was 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.