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Proposed aircraft conversion would cut 216 jobs at 167th Airlift Wing

December 28, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A proposal to replace C-5A aircraft used by the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard with C-17 transport planes and related conversion activities  would result in the reduction of 216 personnel at the base south of Martinsburg, according to documents made public this week.

The proposed aircraft conversion, along with separate U.S. Air Force plans for construction of additional facilities and demolition of several others at Shepherd Field, are detailed in a draft environmental assessment that was made available Sunday for public review at the Martinsburg Public Library.

Described as having "limited strategic function," the 11 C-5A Galaxies currently operated by the 167th Airlift Wing would be replaced with 8 C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, which have "a greater ability to accomplish multiple tasks," according to the  assessment.

The 167th Airlift Wing at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, along with Airlift Wing units at Stewart International Airport in New York and Memphis (Tenn.) International Airport are being eyed for conversion from C-5 to C-17 aircraft in compliance with a September 2010 instruction by U.S. Air Force, the assessment said.

The Air Force Strategic Basing Executive Steering Committee is expected to select one or more of the units for conversion to C-17s and hopes to retire 22 of the oldest C-5s in the U.S. Air Force fleet by fiscal 2011. It is part of a plan to unload "excess strategic airlift capacity" if Congress approves the plan, the assessment said.

In a notice posted Sunday in the library, the National Guard Bureau has invited the public to submit comments about the proposed conversion as well as separate plans for construction and demolition at the base. The deadline to submit a response is Jan. 26.

The proposed aircraft conversion would be completed by 2012, the assessment said.

With the assignment of the C-17s to the 167th Airlift Wing, there would be a small increase in sorties per month, but noise in the vicinity of the airport would be slightly reduced from the baseline, the assessment said.

The first C-5 aircraft arrived at Shepherd Field in December 2006 as part of the Airlift Wing's conversion from C-130s. The unit currently has 1,208 authorized personnel — 489 full-time and 719 part-time, the assessment said.

Calls to 167th Airlift Wing spokeswoman Maj. Melissa Shade and commander Roger Nye were not returned Tuesday night.

"Based on my review of the facts and analysis in this (Environmental Assessment), I conclude that the proposed action will not have a significant impact on the quality of human or natural environment or generate significant controversy either by itself or considering cumulative impacts," said Air Force Col. Peter Tunison in making a finding of "no significant impact."

Tunison is executive secretary of the Environmental, Safety and Occupational Health Council, according to the document.

Separate from the proposed aircraft conversion are plans to build a new 29,650-square-foot headquarters, a 62,000-square-foot security forces facility and about five acres for parking, a 33,300-square-foot civil engineering shop complex, renovation of a hangar for the consolidated civil engineering complex and repair of two existing stormwater ponds.

"None of these construction projects are directly related to the aircraft conversion, but will support daily operations at the (base) and will occur irrespective of the aircraft conversion," according to the document.

Eight existing structures, including the current squadron operations and medical training facilities would be demolished under the proposal.

The facilities, including five that were constructed between 1983 and 1989, comprise 62,814 feet, according to the document.

Since 2003, about $280 million has been spent in the C-5 facility conversion program, according to the Airlift Wing.

The projects included site preparation, an air-control tower, a flight-simulator facility, ramp and hydrant upgrades, a corrosion- control hangar, a fuel-cell hangar, runway upgrades and extensions, a fire station, a supply warehouse, apron and jet fuel storage and taxiway upgrades.

The arrival of the C-17s would increase total airfield operations by less than 1 percent over baseline conditions, operate within the same flight parameters currently in use and have "no impact on local civil and commercial aviation airspace use," according to the assessment.

Relevant comments from agencies and the public will be incorporated in the final environmental assessment, the assessment said.

Comments should be submitted to Mr. Robert Dogan, NGB/A7AM, 3500 Fetchet Ave., Joint Base Andrews, MD, 20762-5157 or e-mailed to Robert.Dogan@ang.af.mil

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