SPOKANE, Wash. - Fairchild Air Force Base lost its bid to serve as the primary home for the nation’s new refueling tankers.
Members of the Kansas congressional delegation issued a joint statement Wednesday announcing the Air Force decision. The aircraft will replace the aging KC-135 fleet flown by crews for the past 50 years.
McConnell was chosen over bases in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Washington.
The decision is significant for Fairchild and the Spokane area because it lost the chance to put the base in position to be a key factor in the Air Force’s plans for decades to come, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact.
Fairchild is the largest employer in Spokane County.
According to the delegation, the Air Force will base 36 of the new aircraft at McConnell starting in 2016. It also will be investing $192 million in upgrades to the base.
The Wichita base was also a finalist with Altus, Okla., as the formal training base for the KC-46A tanker. But that base will receive only up to eight new tankers. Since McConnell was selected as the main active-duty operating base, Altus will handle the training.
Grand Forks, N.D. was the other base in the running that was not selected.
McConnell is already the world’s largest tanker base with 62 KC-135s, five-decade-old planes that will be phased out by the new tankers.
The decision has followed a long selection process, including on-site visits by a team from the Air Force and Department of Defense, according to the Wichita Eagle newspaper. A point system was used to narrow the field down to nine from 54 in January.
Another round of base assignment of new tankers is expected to be held in a couple of years, according to the Wichita Eagle. The Air Force has said it hopes to eventually have 10 bases with new tankers.
Wednesday’s announcement is the Air Force’s “preferred” selection of bases, but the decision won’t be final until an environmental impact statement is completed in the spring of 2014. Federal law requires the statement be completed anytime a new plane assignment is made to a base.