Local politicians line up to save 911th Airlift Wing

March 10, 2012
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Politicians rallied again Friday to try to save the region’s Air Force base.

Two congressmen and other lawmakers said they’ve sent a letter to President Barack Obama outlining why the Air Force should reverse its decision to close the 911th Airlift Wing at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and others joined with the Military Affairs Coalition of Western Pennsylvania at the Heinz History Center to press the Air Force for its rationale.

“All we’re doing is asking for a cost-benefit analysis,” said Mr. Doyle. “We don’t think the Air Force has done their homework.”

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., made the same allegation last week when he sent a letter to the secretary of the Air Force.

The Air Force said in February that it wants to shutter the 911th and remove four big refueling tankers from the nearby 171st Air Refueling Wing as part of its plan to cut $8.7 billion.

The closure is slated for September 2013 but the region’s congressional delegation has vowed to fight it, saying the base is cost-efficient.

Officials said the county has an agreement with the Air Force that allows it to use four runways at Pittsburgh International Airport, as well as fire protection and other services, for $20,000.

“Other reserve stations pay runway and emergency response expenses that are 200 times greater than that amount,” the letter to the president said.

The delegation also said the Air Force appears to be relying on faulty data. The service says the Pittsburgh base is the only one with fewer than 300 civilian personnel. If a base has fewer than 300, the Air Force can decide on its own to close it. If the number is higher, Congress makes the call.

The Air Force says 283 civilians work at the base, but 911th data puts the number at 318.

Another issue is the ability of the 911th to expand. In previous years, the Air Force said the base can only accommodate 10 C-130 transport planes.

The delegation said the Air Force may be making the same assumption again, ignoring the fact that the Allegheny County Airport Authority has set aside land for expanding the 911th to handle as many as 20 of the big planes.