Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

TOP STORY >> Best guess: 25 more planes

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Little Rock Air Force Base could receive 25 additional C-130 transport planes and 2,752 new jobs according to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission recommendations President Bush signed Thursday, a BRAC spokesman said Friday afternoon.

The actual number of planes, which will dictate the number of additional jobs at the base, will be determined by the Air Force, the spokesman said.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said Friday that 25 planes were assigned to the base’s 314th Airlift Wing in the BRAC Commission recommendation, but that the newer planes may simply replace 27 C-130s that the Air Force may deactivate.

“Some can’t fly at all, some are restricted,” Swaim said. “Just because we’re getting some new planes doesn’t mean we’re getting new jobs.”

When the BRAC process first got underway, community leaders wanted to make sure that the base, which has about 5,000 jobs, remained open.

The Defense Department recommended not only leaving the base open, but also moving an additional 77 C-130s and 3,898 jobs to the base.

Elated developers planned expansions to accommodate the growth, and transportation planners began making contingencies aimed at alleviating any new traffic problems that would accompany the new jobs.
But as individual communities lobbied the BRAC Commission, they nipped away at the number of closures and reassignments that would have resulted in the base’s expansion and the community’s windfall.
Now it appears that the 25 planes and 2,752 jobs may be the maximum gain, but Swaim fears there may be no net gain.

“Now that the president has approved the BRAC Commission’s recommendations, I am hopeful details on the impact on Little Rock Air Force Base will be more forthcoming,” Cong. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, said Friday.
Changes at Little Rock Air Force Base are a byproduct of action at other bases, the BRAC Commission spokesman said. BRAC commissioners never considered how many people and planes should be added at the base, but that the base was impacted by the BRAC Commission’s actions at other bases.

When the BRAC Commission reversed the Defense Department’s recommendation to close Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, it set off a chain of events preventing about two-dozen more C-130s from being transferred to Little Rock from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.

The BRAC recommendation, which will become law unless Congress rejects it in the next 45 days, takes a number of C-130s, including 25 from Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, in a pool from which the Air Force may reassign them at will, the spokesman said.

The BRAC recommendations take planes from Pope, Niagria Air National Guard Base in New York, Reno-Tahoe Air National Guard in Nevada, Schenectady (N.Y.) Air National Guard, Mansfield-Lahm Air National Guard in Ohio, Ellsworth Air Force Base and Gen. Mitchell Air Reserve Station in Milwaukee. These planes are in a pool, which the Air Force may distribute at its discretion.

The planes may be moved to Little Rock where they could replace aircraft already there.
The BRAC process has taken several years and is expected to save $25 billion over the next decade. The Defense Department would have saved more if the commission had not decided to keep several bases open which the Pentagon wanted closed.