The U.S. House this week approved legislation that will keep the federal government running into next year, and will keep the 911th Airlift Wing from being closed, at least for the time being. The temporary funding measure, or Continuing Resolution, restricts the Department of Defense from retiring, realigning, divesting, or transferring aircraft of the Air Force.
“That saves the movement of the C-130s and it also stops them from disestablishing any unit associated with aircraft of the Air Force, so it hits on two topics – one they can’t get rid of the planes, two they can’t get rid of the base,” said Congressman Mark Critz (D-PA 12).
The fear, said Critz is the Defense Department would whittle away at base operations until it made sense to close it. Right now, members of the state’s Congressional delegation are working across party lines to keep it open, though the Congressman said this is a good first step.
“We still have a lot of work to do, don’t ever think this is a solution. This is a temporary solution to give us time to continue to champion the 911th and really, in the same breathe, the 171st which is at the Pittsburgh Airport as well, an Air National Guard Unit, the refuelers,” he said.
The Air Force says it wants to close the 911th Airlift Wing because the seven C-130 refueling planes there are among the oldest in the fleet. Military officials say closing the wing would save the Department of Defense $354 million dollars over five years, though opponents of the closure question that estimate. The closure is part of an effort to cut $8.7 billion. Some 286 bases across the U.S. are expected to have their fleets reduced, but the 911th is the only one facing closure.
Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA 18) has also been fighting to keep the 911th open. He applauded the inclusion of language to preserve the base in the Continuing Resolution.
“All along we’ve said that the 911th and the 171st were subject of a premature and uninformed decision of the Pentagon to shut them down, the Pentagon feeling it was a cost-saving measure. We were able to point out that not only was it not a cost-saving measure, it actually was a big mistake because the 911th base doesn’t cost the Air Force anything in terms of operating the airport,” said Murhpy.
Maintenance of the runways, staffing of fire crews, snow removal and other capital expenses are covered by the Allegheny County Airport Authority as part of the maintenance of Pittsburgh International Airport.
He added there is support among the state’s Congressional delegation, and this issue shows that even in a heated political climate, cooperation between different parties is possible.
“As a delegation we continue to work together on regional issues, even though we may disagree on other issues, we still try to find an approach to help the region together,” said Murhpy, “that’s consistent, no one should ever doubt that we work on things together, we have a lot of strong concerns for our area and that’s where we’re one team with one fight.”
The House approved the temporary funding measure on a 329-91 vote, the Senate is expected to vote on it next week.