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The Editorial Board: Niagara Falls air base has what it takes to host Air Force’s new refueling tanker

The Editorial Board: Niagara Falls air base has what it takes to host Air Force’s new refueling tanker

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A new mission is possible for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. It would secure the base's existence for years to come. 

The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is among six finalists to become the reserve base for its new KC-46A Pegasus refueling tanker. When visitors from the U.S. Air Force survey the site this summer, we are confident they will see a lot to like.

Landing the KC-46A Pegasus would be a crowning moment in the comeback of the Niagara Falls base, which had previously been targeted for possible closure by the Pentagon. The advocacy of our region’s members in Congress, as well as Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, helped keep the base alive and thriving.

Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Chris Jacobs, R-Orchard Park, wrote a joint letter to the Air Force Reserve chief, Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, pointing out that the base has two large modern lodging facilities, a newly constructed fitness and training center and a large capacity dining facility. And our region’s education and child care facilities, plus an affordable way of life, make it attractive to military families.

Jerry Zremski of The News reported Monday that 175 active-duty military personnel and an investment of $100 million or more would accompany the awarding of 12 KC-46A aircraft, which would replace eight KC-135 refueling tankers that the 914th Air Refueling Wing flies out of Niagara Falls.

The KC-46A will boost the air power and mobility operations of the Air Force. The first KC-46A was delivered to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas on Jan. 25, 2019. Maj. Charles Hein, chief of current operations at McConnell, told the Daily Republic of Solana County, Calif., that the KC-46A “is a dream to fly. It’s a far more comfortable ride than the KC-135, which is cable-driven and requires you to muscle it.”

What’s good for the Air Force and our national security can also be good for Buffalo Niagara. The reserve base is Niagara County’s largest employer. Federal base-closure commissions threatened to close the facility in the mid-1990s and in the mid-2000s, when the base was used for cargo planes. Schumer, a longtime supporter of the base, led a lobbying effort to bring KC-135s to the base in 2016. Now that Schumer is majority leader, he will no doubt use his clout to make sure Niagara Falls gets every consideration as home to the KC-46A.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand has also been an advocate for the base, along with former Rep. Chris Collins and the late Louise M. Slaughter, a Democratic congresswoman from Fairport.

If the Pentagon chooses Niagara Falls, it should ensure the base has a secure future.

“We would be all set for many, many years to come,” John Cooper, president of the Niagara Falls Military Affairs Council, told The News.

Higgins and Jacobs, in their letter to Scobee, stressed the strategic value of the Niagara Falls base, “as the Arctic theater grows increasingly contested by revisionist powers.”

The Air Force’s site visitors will see that the NFARS has the right stuff.

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