Niagara Falls Joint Air Reserve Station
Usually it's C-130 aircraft that cruise the skies over Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in New York. The Niagara Falls International Airport operated under a joint agreement with the military. The facility handles international charter and cargo service and functions as the reliever airport for the region. With the natural wonder, Niagara Falls, and casino gambling across the US/Canadian border, the airport fits well with Niagara County's well-developed tourist industry.
Eleven Air Force bases were added to the list being considered for realignment or closure by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission 10 May 1995. The 11 new active-duty and Reserve bases on the list brought the total number of Air Force bases being considered for some type of action to 28. New bases on the list included: Columbus AFB, Miss.; Vance AFB, Okla.; Laughlin AFB, Texas; and Hill AFB, Utah. Also added were: Homestead ARS, Fla.; O'Hare ARS, Ill.; Minneapolis-St. Paul ARS, Minn.; Niagara Falls ARS, N.Y.; Youngstown-Warren ARS, Ohio; Carswell ARS, Texas; and General Mitchell ARS, Wisc.
Based upon a true story of a Canadian family and a flock of domesticated geese, the storyline of the movie "Fly Away Home" involves the landing of an ultra-light aircraft at a U.S. Air Force base during a trek from Canada to South Carolina. Portions of the movie, which was released in theaters nationwide Sep 13, 1996, were filmed at Niagara Falls ARS, N.Y. Nominated for an Academy Award for cinematography, this film is now out on video.
The NFIA has the fourth longest runway in New York State at 9,130 feet, which enables it to accommodate all commercial aircraft. Modern customs and immigration facilities allow for quick processing of international passengers. As a further enhancement at the NFIA, Tech Aviation is the Fixed-Base Operator (FOB) at the airport. Tech Aviation provides aircraft refueling and ground handling 24 hours a day. Non-commercial general aviation operations totals over 40,000 flights annually. The NFIA generates an annual economic impact of $100 million for Niagara County.
The history of the Niagara Falls International Airport in some ways mirrors the development of the region, changing and adapting with the times. Presently a regional consortium is actively discussing the best role for the airport to play, keeping in mind that it is located near one of the seven wonders of the world, and with a 9,130 ft. runway, it is one of the longest runways in New York State.
Opened in 1928 as a city-owned municipal airport with four crushed stone runaways, the airport underwent its first metamorphosis in the early 1940's. The construction of a Bell Aerospace plant at the facility and the entry of the United States into World War II moved the airport into an active military phase, which continues even today. The U.S. Air Force established a base and managed and operated the facility during the war. Runways were added and extended during the 40's and 50's, and construction included a control tower, high intensity lights, and instrument landing system. The base was converted to an Air Reserve Base which became the upstate home of the New York Air National Guard's. In 1959, the main runaway was extended to over 9,000 feet in order to accommodate the new, more demanding military aircraft. A US Air Force Reserve Unit is also based out of the NFIA.
The airport reshaped itself yet again in 1965 when U.S. Customs approved it for international flights and in 1970 when the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority purchased it from the City of Niagara Falls, which is its current owner.
Currently the airport has three active runways, which serve general aviation, military, and some commercial flights. Celebrating both its past and its future, the airport hosts an annual international air show every summer.
During the summer of 2003 nine Air Force Reserve Command installations were re-designated joint bases or stations to reflect the multiservice use of the facilities. The locations and their new designations are: Dobbins Joint Air Reserve Base, Ga.; Grissom JARB, Ind.; Homestead JARB, Fla.; March JARB, Calif.; Minneapolis-St. Paul Joint Air Reserve Station, Minn.; Niagara Falls JARS, N.Y.; Pittsburgh JARS, Pa.; Westover JARB, Mass.; and Youngstown JARS, Ohio.
Secretary of Defense Recommendation: In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to close Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station (ARS), NY. It would distribute the eight C-130H aircraft of the 914th Airlift Wing (AFR) to the 314th Airlift Wing, Little Rock AFB, AR. The 914th's headquarters would move to Langley AFB, VA, the Expeditionary Combat Support (ECS) would realign to the 310th Space Group (AFR) at Schriever AFB, CO, and the Civil Engineering Squadron would move to Lackland AFB, TX. DoD also recommended to distribute the eight KC-135R aircraft of the 107th Air Refueling Wing (ANG) (at Niagra) to the 101st Air Refueling Wing (ANG), Bangor IAP AGS, ME. The 101st would subsequently retire its eight KC-135E aircraft and no Air Force aircraft would remain at Niagara.
The total estimated one-time cost to the Department of Defense to implement this recommendation would be $65.2M. The net of all costs and savings to the Department during the implementation period would be a savings of $5.3M. Annual recurring savings after implementation would be $20.1M, with a payback period expected in two years. The net present value of the cost and savings to the Department over 20 years would be a savings of $199.4M. Assuming no economic recovery, this recommendation could result in a maximum potential reduction of 1,072 jobs (642 direct jobs and 430 indirect jobs) over the 2006-2011 period in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY, metropolitan statistical economic area (0.2 percent). Impacts of costs would include $0.3M in costs for environmental compliance and waste management.
Secretary of Defense Justification: This recommendation distributes C-130 force structure to Little Rock (17-airlift), a base with higher military value. These transfers move C-130 force structure from the Air Force Reserve to the active duty, addressing a documented imbalance in the active/reserve manning mix for C-130s. Additionally, this recommendation distributes more capable KC-135R aircraft to Bangor (123), replacing the older, less capable KC-135E aircraft. Bangor supports the Northeast Tanker Task Force and the Atlantic air bridge.
Community Concerns: Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station (NFARS) community representatives highlighted the proximity of NFARS to the busy USCanadian border, and claimed that closure would harm America's homeland defense capabilities. They pointed out that NFARS supports elements of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Army Reserves and National Guard, Coast Guard, Drug Enforcement Agency, and Customs and Border Protection. Local agencies benefiting from NFARS include Red Cross, the fire department, county sheriff, and the Niagara Falls Police. A chief concern of the community was how these agencies would be supported in the event NFARS closed.
Community representatives felt the Air Force recommendations were based on outdated or incomplete information. The "WIDGET" model, used to develop the MCI scores, did not allow for the use of 388,503 square feet of Federally owned ramp space available for use by NFARS. Further, the use of data for fiscal year 2003 did not capture significant reductions for base operating support that occurred in fiscal years 2004 through 2005. Had these factors been incorporated into DoD's analysis, the Community believes the outcome might have been different.
Last, community advocates noted that the base is located in an economically depressed region and is the second largest employer in the area. Community leaders maintained that the COBRA model underestimated the economic impact on the locality by including Niagara Falls in the Buffalo, NY, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) population estimates.
The Department of Defense estimated a job loss of 1,072. However, members of the Niagara Military Affairs Council (NIMAC) contend that closing NFARS will result in the loss of 2,906 jobs, eliminating 3.5 percent of Niagara County's job base and potentially increasing the area's unemployment rate from 6.1 percent to 7 percent. They maintain that this will create an "economic tipping point" that will cause irreversible damage. Community representatives indicated that conditions for successful redevelopment of NFARS do not exist. Since 2001; manufacturing employment is down 19.4 percent, information technology employment is down 27.6 percent, employment in the financial services sector is down 5.6 percent, and employment in the transportation and utilities industries is down by 3.9 percent.
Commission Findings: The DoD justification for closing Niagara Falls ARS was part of a larger effort to restructure the C-130 fleet from reserve units to active-duty units at Little Rock, in order to address an imbalance in the C-130 active/reserve manning structure. It also was intended to relocate the KC-135Rs to replace older KC-135E tankers at Bangor International Airport Air Guard Station.
The Commission found that Niagara Falls ARS has won Air Force Reserve Command's recruiting awards for the last two years. Both Guard and Reserve wings exceeded their recruiting goals by 20 percent and have retention rates exceeding 95 percent. The Commission found that closing this installation would have affected future manpower requirements and would degrade current and future nighttime operations.
The Air Reserve Station is used jointly by the Air Force Reserve, the Air National Guard, and the Army Reserve and is one of only two Air Force installations on which Guard and Reserve units are collocated with shared facilities. Finally, the installation supports other Federal users with homeland defense missions, including the: FBI, Army Guard, Coast Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Customs and Border Protection, and DEA. The Commission found that closing Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station would be detrimental to joint warfighting and homeland defense operations.
The Commission found that the savings associated with closing Niagara Falls ARS were overestimated by the Department of Defense as a result of recent cost reductions.
Niagara Falls is the second largest employer in an economically depressed region. According to data provided by the community, the closure of Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station would have resulted in the loss of 2,906 jobs as opposed to the 1,072 estimated by the Department of Defense. This figure represents 3.5 percent of the county's job base and would have increased the area's unemployment rate from 6.1 percent to over 7 percent.
The Commission also found the need to strengthen the Atlantic Air Bridge by transferring eight KC-135Rs from Niagara Falls ARS. This recommendation is consistent with the Commission's Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Laydown Plan.
This recommendation directing aircraft movement and personnel actions in connection with Air National Guard installations and organizations is designed to support the Future Total Force. The Commission expects that the Air Force will find new missions where needed, provide retraining opportunities, and take appropriate measures to limit possible adverse personnel impact. The Commission's intent is that the Air Force will act to assign sufficient aircrew and maintenance personnel to units gaining aircraft in accordance with current, established procedures. However, the Commission expects that all decisions with regard to manpower authorizations will be made in consultation with the governor of the state in which the affected Air National Guard unit is located. Any manpower changes must be made under existing authorities, and must be made consistent with existing limitations. Some reclassification of existing positions may be necessary, but should not be executed until the Air Force and the state have determined the future mission of the unit to preclude unnecessary personnel turbulence.
Commission Recommendations: The Commission found that the Secretary of Defense deviated substantially from final selection criteria 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6, as well as from the Force Structure Plan. Therefore, the Commission recommends the following:
Realign Niagara Falls ARS, NY. Distribute the KC-135R/T aircraft assigned to the 107th Air Refueling Wing (ANG) to meet the Primary Aircraft Authorizations (PAA) requirements established by the Base Closure and Realignment recommendations of the Secretary of Defense, as amended by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.
Establish 10 PAA KC-135R/T at the 101st Air Refueling Wing (ANG), Bangor International Airport Air Guard Station, Maine. The 101st Air Refueling Wing KC-135E aircraft will be transferred to the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, for appropriate disposal as economically unserviceable aircraft.
All personnel allotted to the 107th Air Refueling Wing (ANG), including the unit's Expeditionary Combat Support (ECS) elements, will remain in place and form an Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve associate wing with the 914th Airlift Wing. Establish a contiguous enclave for the 107th Air Refueling Wing (ANG) sufficient to support operation of that unit, including flight operations, and compatible with joint use of the Air Reserve Station as a civilian airport. Guard personnel will be provided the training necessary to support the airlift mission. This recommendation does not effect a change to the authorized end-strength of the New York Air National Guard. The distribution of aircraft currently assigned to the 107th Air Refueling Wing (ANG) is based upon a resource-constrained determination by the Department of Defense that the aircraft concerned will better support national security requirements in other locations and is not conditioned upon the agreement of the state.
The Commission found that this change and the recommendation as amended are consistent with the final selection criteria and the Force Structure Plan. The full text of this and all Commission recommendations can be found in Appendix Q.