Good for the members of the Kansas congressional delegation who are working hard now to claim a sizable piece of the next refueling-tanker fleet for both McConnell Air Force Base and Wichita.
As Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, and Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran said in a June 11 letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, “McConnell AFB is the option whose location, capacity and mission will best meet the needs of the U.S. Air Force.”
In promoting McConnell as the best option among the nation’s many bases to host KC-46A tankers starting in 2016, the lawmakers also emphasized Wichita’s stature as a builder of military aircraft and McConnell’s status as “by far the largest KC-135 tanker base in the country.”
They added: “Kansans have a long-standing history of service and support to air power, and we hope this tradition continues” with the Air Force’s selection of McConnell as the first Main Operating Base for the new tanker.
And while Wichita continues to nurse the wound of Boeing’s decision to pull up stakes by the end of 2013, and take its remaining 2,160 jobs with it, the community must not take for granted the much-larger economic footprint that McConnell represents.
The 71-year-old base is home to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing, the Air Force Reserve’s 931st Air Refueling Group and the 184th Intelligence Wing of the Kansas Air National Guard. About 3,000 active-duty and 1,900 Reserve and Guard personnel serve at McConnell – an increase since 2006. When civilian employees, retirees and dependents are included, the number of area residents directly involved in the base comes to about 17,000. And about 85 percent of personnel live off the base, extending McConnell’s reach across many businesses and neighborhoods.
Wichita State University economists put the base’s impact, based on 2006 data, at $230 million in wages and $1.8 billion in area economic activity.
Though there won’t be a Boeing Wichita to help build the company’s new KC-46A tankers after all, there will be no better place to base the planes than McConnell. It should be a natural to be among the 10 main operating bases for the aircraft.
And for Wichita, it would be a “very big deal,” as Jeremy Hill, director of WSU’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research, put it.
Pompeo, Roberts and Moran need to be as dogged about winning at least 36 tankers for McConnell as the Kansas delegation was in helping Boeing win the tanker contract.
The partnership of McConnell and Wichita, already time- and battle-tested, can serve both national security and the region’s economic well-being far into the future.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman