New York’s two senators on Thursday hailed the Air Force’s decision to transfer eight KC-135 refueling tankers to Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station as the successful culmination of a months-long campaign by state and local officials to secure a new mission for the facility.
“The eagle has landed for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D) told the Niagara Gazette following the news. “I’ve been working on this for a year. This is our future,” he said.
Funding for the new mission is expected to be included in the Obama administration’s fiscal 2017 budget request. No timetable for transfer of the aircraft has been announced, but the move is expected to happen “soon,” according to Schumer.
Gaining the tankers is critical for the air reserve station as the Air Force is expected to retire its aging fleet of C-130 transport aircraft, the same type of aircraft flown by the Reserve’s 914th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls. The installation’s Air National Guard unit, the 107th Airlift Wing, flew KC-135 tankers until 2008 and installation supporters have pointed out that the infrastructure remains in place to handle air refueling tankers. The Air National Guard unit is transitioning to unmanned aerial systems.
In lobbying for the tankers, Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) said the airbase’s existing infrastructure and the local workforce makes the installation an ideal fit the new mission. The senators also promoted the base’s strategic location, noting that it is located near five border crossings, five potential refueling routes and a large contingent of potential customers.
“We needed a new modern fleet and the KC-135s fit us like a glove because we have all the infrastructure that’s needed for them,” Schumer said.
The Niagara Military Affairs Council and the state’s congressional delegation pursued the KC-135 mission as some bases with KC-135 fleets transition to the Air Force’s next generation tanker, the KC-46A.