Air Force officials listened to local comments last Wednesday, Nov. 20 at Spokane's Lincoln Center regarding the potential location for its next generation tanker.
The public hearing was held following the release of the draft Environmental Impact Study for the KC-46A rollout, scheduled to take place over the next few years. Fairchild Air Force Base was selected as one of the alternatives to be the main operating base. McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas was selected as the preferred location.
The main operating base will host 36 KC-46A aircraft for three squadrons.
In addition to the main operating base, one location will be selected as the formal training unit. McConnell and Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma were the two alternative locations, Altus being named as the preferred location.
The preparation of the final Environmental Impact Study will take place throughout the winter, before being released around March or April next year. A record of decision will follow, naming the first two bases to receive KC-46A planes.
Around a dozen members of the public were present for the hearing, providing input to Air Force officials on why the Spokane region was the best choice to become the main operating base.
A running comment throughout the evening centered on the Spokane region's lack of tornadoes, following the numerous instances occurring just a week prior throughout the Midwest.
Greater Spokane Incorporated CEO Rich Hadley said the support from the Spokane community has remained steadfast from the first donation of land to form an air depot to the present day operations at the base. He also highlighted Fairchild's brand new runway, noting the greater opportunities for missions involving planes like the KC-46A tankers.
"We're proud of this base, and the community shows it 24/7," he said.
Hadley also shared that Spokane was the sixth-safest community in the U.S., threatened with few natural disasters based on its geography. He also noted that Spokane is number two among locations in which military members choose to retire.
Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing said that Fairchild is one of the most protected bases in the Air Force. With the city needing to handle Department of Defense and Federal Aviation Agency sound contours from two nearby airports, development regulations were updated over the last two years to account for better protection of both Spokane International Airport and Fairchild.
Margaret Jones, a West Plains resident, said Fairchild doesn't have the environmental situations like Altus and McConnell. She also highlighted the recent renovations at the base, including a new fitness center and headquarters building, as well as the community support ready to help if called on.
"Fairchild is the best-kept secret in the Air Force," she said.
If Fairchild was selected for the main operating base, the study shows there would be a 62 percent increase in air operations.
Compared to other bases, Fairchild's population increase on Spokane County if selected for the project would be an estimated .2 percent. One historic hangar could pose a problem, although officials at the hearing said they were working with the state government on that issue.
No other consequences were anticipated from having Fairchild as the main operating base.
Edward Neunherz, a Spokane County planning commissioner and retired Air Force officer, said the West Plains base is positioned just right for the KC-46A tanker, summing up other comments during the evening.
"Fairchild is the right place and the right time to take on an added mission," Neunherz said.
James Eik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.