Florida chosen over Fairchild for new refueling tanker base, will add 24 new aircraft

News

John Stucke

The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.

The Air Force has chosen MacDill Air Force Base in Florida rather than Fairchild Air Force Base to be home base for it next group of modern refueling tankers.

The Dec. 21 announcement by the Air Force said the decision to locate the next two dozen KC-46A Pegasus aircraft was made after taking into account multiple considerations such as mission, community support, infrastructure, environmental affects and cost.

The decision drew immediate blowback from Washington’s congressional delegation, who had been pushing for Fairchild to be the sixth main operating base for the KC-46A.

“As one of the largest air-refueling tanker bases in the country, Fairchild Air Force Base already possesses the needed capacity and ability to accommodate KC-46A aerial refueling tankers — which make the Air Force’s decision not to house the new KC-46A fleet at Fairchild all the more inexplicable,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat.

“I am incredibly disappointed with this decision,” she added. “Let’s not mince words, the Air Force has made the wrong choice.”

GOP Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers also said she was disappointed.

“While this is not the news we were hoping for, I have no doubt that Fairchild will continue to serve as a center of excellence for the KC-135 fleet and play a critical role in refueling missions,” she said.

The new aircraft will replace the KC-135 Stratotankers now in service at MacDill Air Force Base.

A final basing decision will be made following an environmental impact analysis, which is expected to happen in the fall of 2023. The Air Force noted that Fairchild is considered a “reasonable alternative,” and it also will undergo an environmental analysis.

Spokane leaders have been angling for years to land the next generation KC-46A tankers as the Air Force gradually replaces its aging fleet of KC-135s.

In January 2017, the Air Force selected two bases — one in New Jersey and one in California — to receive the new KC-46A planes.

Later that year, water wells in and around Fairchild were tested for dangerous chemicals used in firefighting foam. Lawsuits followed, including one that accuses former base officials of using the toxic foam recklessly.

Then in 2018, the Spokane Tribe opened a new casino near the base after beating back opposition from community leaders who worried the location was too close and might disrupt efforts to maintain or grow Fairchild’s importance to the Air Force.

The KC-135 remains the backbone of the Air Force’s refueling fleet, with hundreds of aircraft, including more than 60 aircraft in four squadrons at Fairchild, which is considered home to the largest refueling wing in the world.

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