Politicians who won a bipartisan battle to save the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station are now trying to bring in more planes to beef up the operation.
They said at the base Friday they hope to persuade the Pentagon to provide the 914th Airlift Wing with four more C-130 cargo planes. The Wing's current fleet of eight is the bare minimum to carry out existing missions, said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence. He said more planes are needed for the base to meet the renewed confidence placed in it by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
The commission recommended last August that the base be removed from the closure list. President Bush approved the recommendation, even though Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld criticized the panel for focusing more on the base's economic impact than its military value.
Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, paid his first visit to the base Friday and met with the commander, Col. James B. Roberts, and the troops, but did not speak to the media about plans for the base.
Elected representatives assembled in a hangar and did the talking for him -- without giving away much. "We are optimistic more planes are coming here," said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who flew to Western New York from Washington, D.C., with the general.
"When a hands-on leader like Gen. Moseley comes here and is impressed by what he sees," added Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., "we know this base has a bright future." Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, echoed the sentiment: "Nobody could fail to be impressed by what they saw here today."
Joining the congressional delegation was Merrell Lane, president of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, a 500-strong organization of business owners and local officials that began fighting to save the base last May.
Reynolds, when pressed, said the region's federal representatives are trying to get an extra four cargo planes for the 914th.
The 50-year-old facility is home to the Air Force Reserve 914th Airlift Wing and the New York State National Guard's 107th Air Refueling Wing. The 107th lost its KC-135 tanker planes to a base in Bangor, Maine. The unit instead will work with the 914th Wing, another reason for needing more aircraft at the base, the lawmakers said.