Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

TOP STORY >> Base gains seen as modest

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

The Air Force on Monday evening told Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Cong. Vic Snyder that the active-duty side of Little Rock Air Force Base can expect a net gain of five C-130s and the Guard side can expect one additional plane as a result of the final Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission’s recommendations, signed Sept. 9 by President Bush.

Unless overturned by Congress within 45 working days, that would give the active-duty Air Force at LRAFB 71 planes and the Guard nine, according to Snyder and Lincoln, but not the 42 additional planes the base had hoped for.

The number of planes on the active duty side would increase from 66 to 71 and the number on the Guard side from eight to nine.

There is one line in the BRAC Commission recommendations that seems to suggest that the base would gain more than 2,000 additional jobs, but observers say that doesn’t seem likely if the base will receive only six additional aircraft.

Capt. David Faggard said Tuesday evening that currently the base is assigned 74 C-130s. The Air Force BRAC Commission recommendation for Little Rock Air Force Base originally had proposed to increase the active duty side from 66 to 98 (C-130s) and the Air National Guard side from eight C-130s to 18, with the addition of 3,898 jobs. The commission reduced those numbers.

“If this is accurate, we still have accomplished what we set out to do,” Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said, “which was maintain the base in Arkansas.”

“Any additional aircraft or personnel is a bonus. At this point I won’t rule out the possibility of more planes and people coming to Little Rock Air Force Base,” he said Tuesday.

Swaim, who has lobbied hard on behalf of keeping the base open during the BRAC process and to keep the new jobs and dozens of additional C-130s that the Defense Department wanted to move to Little Rock, said he wouldn’t know how many planes would end up on the base “until we see them sitting here. That will be the final decision and we’ll count them.”

Snyder called the latest information “definitive for today.” Members of the congressional delegation, civic leaders and local Air Force brass have been left to wonder what the eventual outcome of the Little Rock Air Force Base BRAC Commission actions would be.

“Our goal for years has been to see that Little Rock Air Force Base survives and this is a further indication,” Snyder said.

There’s going to be more coming to replace older planes, he said. “This is a step in the right direction. This is the Air Force’s analysis,” Snyder said.

“I think we’re probably in the ball park since those other bases didn’t close.”
“It has been made clear to me by the Air Force and by Chairman (Anthony) Principi of the BRAC Commission that Little Rock Air Force Base will not lose any aircraft at the conclusion of this BRAC round,” Lincoln said.
“Any net gain in aircraft would be a positive sign for our state, and I believe it would reinforce the confidence the BRAC Comm-ission and the Air Force have in Little Rock Air Force Base, the country’s premier C-130 training facility.”