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A KC-135 Aircraft arrives at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station on Feb. 2, 2017.
A KC-135 Aircraft arrives at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station on Feb. 2, 2017. (Stephanie Sawyer/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — The bid to bring a new mission and active-duty service members to the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station has some senatorial firepower behind it.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Monday that he has been pushing for the new mission at the Niagara facility for weeks. In fact, in mid-May, Schumer called Frank Kendall, President Biden’s nominee to be secretary of the Air Force, to argue that the new mission should come to the Niagara base.

If the Air Force chooses the local base for the new mission, the decision would bring an active-duty squadron of about 175 to work with the Air Force Reserve’s 914th Air Refueling Wing.

The Niagara facility has not had an active-duty squadron based there since 1971. If the Niagara base is selected, it would also get 12 KC-46A Pegasus air refueling tankers to replace the eight KC-135 tankers that the 914th currently flies.

“The existing infrastructure at this first-rate facility, combined with the phenomenal service members of the 914th, ensure that NFARS would be more than capable of hosting a new active-duty squadron,” Schumer said. “I stressed this to Air Force secretary nominee Kendall in my call last month, and will continue to do everything in my power to bring the new 46A Pegasus to NFARS to create new jobs at the base and ensure that our troops have a reliable fuel source when training to protect our health and freedom.”

The Air Force announced recently that the Niagara base is one of six that is being considered for the new mission. The others are Beale Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base in California; Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana; Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma; and Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Field in Maryland south of Washington, D.C.

“Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is the perfect location for the Air Force’s new refueling tankers and deserves to be selected,” Schumer said. “NFARS has continuously delivered for New York over the last 50 years as a reserve base.”

Air Force officials have said the Niagara base would need about $100 million in new construction to accommodate the new mission. New hangars would have to be constructed because the KC-46A — the Air Force’s most modern refueling tanker — is larger than the KC-135.

The Niagara facility has been threatened with closure twice in the past 30 years. But John Cooper, president of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, said the base’s selection for the new mission would ensure its future for years to come.

“There would be additional investment and additional manpower,” Cooper said.

Schumer is a longtime advocate of the Niagara base. He joined the rest of the Western New York congressional delegation to fight a proposal to shutter the base in 2005, and has been pushing for additional investment there ever since. He also advocated changing the 914th’s mission so that it would fly refueling tankers rather than the aging cargo planes that the unit previously flew.

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