Staff Reporter 

Fairchild listed as alternative for new tanker fleet

Kansas’ McConnell Air Force Base named as preferred first location


Last Wednesday, May 22, United States Air Force officials announced their recommendation that McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas was recommended to be the first base to receive the new KC-46A tanker fleet, listing Fairchild and Grand Forks as alternative locations.

The new tanker will eventually replace the KC-135 fleet, the aircraft currently used at Fairchild. Local cities and economic organizations rallied to support the base’s bid to be the main operating base for the first KC-46A fleet, built by Boeing.

“Our KC-135s are critical to fueling the fight and fueling freedom, now and for the foreseeable future,” 92nd Air Refueling Wing Commander Col. Brian Newberry said in a press release. “While the KC-46A is an important step in recapitalizing the tanker fleet, we will continue to perform our critical mission of worldwide aerial refueling with the venerable KC-135.”

The Air Force said McConnell was chosen because it is located in a region of high air refueling receiver demand. Air Force survey teams also developed cost estimates relating to making the new tankers compatible for each candidate base.

The first of three KC-46A deliveries will send 179 planes, in an effort to replace more than 400 KC-135 and 59 KC-10 aircraft, according to a Fairchild press release. The final deliveries will likely take place in fiscal year 2028, with plans to base KC-46A planes at up to 10 locations.

Local reaction ranged from disappointment to optimism, all while remaining firmly in support of Fairchild’s continuing mission and importance as an economic powerhouse in Spokane.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray was particularly critical of the decision, noting that she would discuss the location decision with Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and also address Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in the coming weeks.

“With unmatched community support, world-class facilities and infrastructure, and an ideal location to support the military’s focus on the Asia-Pacific region, it’s difficult to understand how Fairchild was not chosen as a home for the tanker fleet. Later today and in the coming weeks, I will raise my deep concerns about this decision with the highest levels of our military,” she said.

Greater Spokane Incorporated was one of the local organizations rallying heavily for Fairchild to be the first base for the new tanker fleet.

“Our community now must do everything in its power to prepare for the future of our base and protect it from future base closure processes,” Greg Bever, Chair of Forward Fairchild, a committee of GSI said.

Washington’s 5th District Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, however, was one of the public figures remaining optimistic. Her comments reflected the potential for future tanker deliveries and noted the strong work taken throughout the base selection process by local organizations.

“This is not a loss. The Air Force has plans to procure 179 KC-46A refueling tankers. It is important to remember that this is only the first installment of 36 tankers. While it was our hope that Fairchild would be the preferred base to host the next-generation refueling tankers, today’s announcement continues to bolster Fairchild’s vibrant mission. In the next few years, the Air Force will continue to base KC-46A refueling tankers at additional installations,” she said in a press release last week.

Reactions also included concerns about potential upcoming rounds of base realignments and closures throughout the military.

“We expect a round of base closures before 2019, which means our community must do all it can to protect our region’s largest employer,” Rich Hadley, President and CEO of GSI said.

The Air Force will render its final base decision in the spring of 2014, deciding between the preferred location and the alternates, including Fairchild.

“If indeed Fairchild is chosen to fly the KC-46A in the future, we will do so with the same level of partnership with the 141st Washington Air National Guard Refueling Wing and dedication our Airmen continuously provide,” Newberry said in a press release.

James Eik can be reached at


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