Air Force holding public hearing in Chicopee on KC-46A environmental impact

The KC-46A Pegasus' primary function is to refuel other aircraft.

The KC-46A is intended to replace the United States Air Force's aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers and provides vital air refueling capability for the United States Air Force. (Courtesy Photo)

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Though Westover Air Reserve Base is not the leading candidate to house the Air Force’s new KC-46A Pegasus tankers, it remains an alternate base. The top choice is Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.

The Air Force is holding public hearings in the communities of all alternate bases to discuss what it would mean environmentally to take in the KC-46As.

Westover’s hearing is scheduled to take place at the Westover Metropolitan Airport on December 13 at 5:00 p.m. There, the public is invited to comment on the environmental impact. Those who wish to send in written comments can do so online by reviewing the draft environmental impact statement, here.

In addition to Westover ARB, other alternates include Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana and Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

How could Westover be chosen to receive the KC-46As?

If the first choice base, Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina, is not ultimately selected, the Air Force will then consider the three alternates. Lt. Col. James Bishop told 22News Westover was selected as a possible host base for its award-winning reputation in the Air Force and its sheer size: it’s the largest air reserve base in the country by land mass. He said, “There will likely be other rounds as they build more KC46, so we’ve already been vetted, we’ve already been approved, the impact statement is out there, so it’s a possibility for down the road, but this is years and years down the road.”

The Air Force is holding these public hearings in alternate communities  in order to receive feedback from residents and federal, state, and local agencies. This, according to a release sent to 22News from Westover ARB, is so that the Air Force can make an informed decision if an alternate had to be chosen.

If Westover was selected, the KC-46A mission would be added to the base’s current C-5 Galaxy mission. Grissom ARB and Tinker AFB’s current KC-135 missions would be replaced with the new KC-46A mission.

This is a second setback for Westover. In 2015, due to federal budget cuts, 8 of the 16 C-5s were removed from the base. That also meant a loss of 59 full-time and 275 part-time jobs. According to Westover, the base’s economic impact on surrounding communities was 221 million dollars in 2015. That dropped to 198 million dollars in 2016. Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos said that’s still a huge contribution to the city. He said while they were disappointed Westover wasn’t selected to host the new refueling jets, they were optimistic. He said, “We’re optimistic that as they go through this process, it keeps Westover in their mind and the forefront of possibilities, not only for additions to this program, but perhaps other additions.”

Nathan’s Modern Barber Shop is just blocks away from the base in Chicopee. Barber Tom Duffy told 22News, “”I think it would help pretty positively. I know a lot of guys there spread the word about us…I have a lot of clients out from there personally, air force base, you know, a lot of fades, a lot of guys doing the hardline with the combovers.”