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Wednesday, October 28, 2015
ENP STAFF REPORTS
news@eastniagarapost.com


Andrew Cuomo
ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo today released a letter he sent to the Secretary of the United States Air Force urging her to solidify the future of the 914th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

The Air Force Reserve unit currently flies eight C-130 cargo aircraft, but their fate is uncertain due to a number of factors. A long-term, “enduring mission” for the 914th – one on which all other Air Force objectives will depend – is critical to ensuring that the Air Force continues to fly heavy aircraft from the base. Gov. Cuomo identified a tanker refueling mission as one such possibility, and pledged the State’s support in identifying a long-term plan for the base.

“For years, the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station has played a critical role in the strength and readiness of the United States Air Force – and I believe that should continue well into the future,” the governor said. “New York State is prepared to take cost-saving measures in order to help craft a viable enduring mission for the base, and I hope to work with the USAF to make this a reality.”

The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Stations is the largest single-site employer in Niagara County, supporting more than 3,000 airmen, airwomen and soldiers. It has an annual economic impact of more than $140 million, including direct payments that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority receives from the U.S. Defense Department because the base is co-located with the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. The base has been repeatedly targeted for cuts and closure in multiple rounds of Base Realignment and Closure and Air Force personnel changes.

Defense budget constraints and the Air Force’s declining emphasis on mid-range cargo planes have led to roughly a 17 percent reduction in the C-130 fleet since 2013. Additionally, unless the remaining planes receive expensive instrument upgrades before 2019, both U.S. and European regulations will impose significant flight restrictions that will further limit their use.

Earlier this year, NFARS was one of 18 Air Force Reserve bases nationally considered to receive the new KC-46 Pegasus tanker that is scheduled to replace the existing fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers beginning in 2017. Replacement will take several decades, during which the Air Force will continue to rely on the KC-135 for refueling missions. Additionally, delays in developing the new tankers will require reassignment and continued use of a number of KC-135s in order to meet current and future refueling needs. NFARS is an attractive location for some of those tankers.

Though not currently home to tankers, NFARS still has most of what is needed to host the KC-135 mission from when the 107th Wing of the Air National Guard flew that plane at NFARS for more than a decade, from the late 1990’s until tankers were removed as a result of BRAC 2005. Having that infrastructure makes NFARS a cost-effective location for the Air Force to potentially assign KC-135 tankers from bases that will begin receiving the KC-46 in 2017. Unlike C-130 cargo aircraft, tankers do not require instrument upgrades to operate in U.S. or European airspace beyond 2019.

Cuomo's office has worked closely with the Niagara Military Affairs Council, Niagara County and the Congressional delegation to explore the possibility of the 914th undergoing a mission conversion, from an airlift mission flying C-130s, to a refueling mission flying tankers. The Governor’s Office has facilitated multiple rounds of meetings for community leaders with senior Air Force leadership in Washington over the last two years, and supported NIMAC leaders on a September 2015 visit to Air Mobility Command headquarters in St. Louis for meetings with General Carlton Everhart and his staff. As the newly-confirmed AMC Commander, General Everhart is responsible for all cargo airlift and refueling missions.

Copies of Governor Cuomo’s letter to Secretary James were also sent to General Everhart and General James Jackson, commander of the Air Force Reserve.



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