Local officials are encouraging area residents to help with the effort to secure the new KC-46A refueling tankers for McConnell Air Force Base by attending an open house this week.
Pat Gallagher, of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, said community support is vital as the Air Force prepares to select which bases will receive the tankers in 2016.
“Growth for McConnell is growth for Wichita, Derby and the surrounding regions. But the competition is pretty stiff” among finalists, said Gallagher, government relations manager for the chamber and the group’s liaison with McConnell.
“It just makes good sense to send a positive message to the Air Force.”
Support for McConnell’s bid will be sought Thursday during the open house, to be held from 5 to 8 p.m. in Room 180 of the Hughes Metropolitan Complex, 5015 E. 29th St. North in Wichita.
During the meeting, Air Force staff will collect public comments, which will be used to assess the tankers’ potential environmental impact locally. Residents will also hear more about the projects.
Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner encouraged residents to attend, citing McConnell’s annual economic impact of $619 million.
He said that a crowd of supporters would let “the Air Force know that the city and whole area is supportive.”
The Air Force selected McConnell as a finalist to receive the tankers in January. It is competing against three other bases – Altus, Okla.; Grand Forks, N.D.; and Fairchild in Spokane, Wash. – to be the main operating base for 36 tankers. Altus and McConnell are the two finalists for getting eight new tankers as a training base.
The Air Force is expected to make its final selections in mid-May. No base will receive both missions.
Gallagher is asking those unable to attend to write letters in support of McConnell’s bid for the tankers. Letters may be sent to: United States Air Force, AFCEC/CZN Midwest Office, c/o Ms. Jean Reynolds, 507 Symington Dr., Scott AFB, IL 62225-5022.
“It’s always nice to be on the leading edge,” she said of McConnell’s bid for the tankers. “We’re the Air Capital of the world. It’s just a nice fit for us.”