MORNINGSIDE – When Americans elect a new president in eight years, whoever is chosen could get a new plane as well as a new job title. The U.S. Air Force held two community meetings this week to seek public input on the potential environmental impacts of infrastructure changes needed on Joint Base Andrews (JBA) to […]
MORNINGSIDE – When Americans elect a new president in eight years, whoever is chosen could get a new plane as well as a new job title.
The U.S. Air Force held two community meetings this week to seek public input on the potential environmental impacts of infrastructure changes needed on Joint Base Andrews (JBA) to accommodate a new class of Air Force One aircraft, which are used to transport the president and other important dignitaries.
The current Air Force One fleet consists of VC-25A planes first purchased in 1987. They have been in operation since 1990. Lt. Col. Joel Harper, director of public affairs for Air Force District of Washington, said the upkeep of those old planes is getting to be a burden on the taxpayers.
“The aircraft is getting old. It is getting much more expensive to keep up in the air, much more expensive to maintain. So the Air Force and the department of defense have decided that now is the time to reinvest,” he said.
The new fleet would be comprised of Boeing 747-8 planes, heavily modified to accommodate the future president’s needs. Reasons for selecting that model include its size and capacity for passengers, ability to be fitted to the necessary security specifications, and the fact that it is a four-engine plane.
Lt. Col. Alan Berck with Air Mobility Command Strategic Basing said only four engines can produce enough power for the generator needed aboard Air Force One.
“Looking at what airplanes are out there still flying that have four engines, Boeing is the only current manufacturer in the U.S. that makes the four-engine 747. And actually the 747-800 is the only four-engine passenger airplane that’s still being produced large enough to house Air Force One,” Berck said.
The process of commissioning a new Air Force One is still in the very early stages. It has yet to be determined how many planes will be a part of the fleet and how much the project will cost. Harper said the projections are for the new aircraft to be in service around 2024.
Harper said at this stage of the process, the goal is to gather public feedback related to the environmental impacts of changes needed at JBA to accommodate these eventual new planes. Because they are larger and heavier, a new, multi-bay hangar will need to be constructed. Two bays are tentatively proposed, but the Air Force is doing the environmental study based on a three-bay hangar, because a two-bay one would be contained within that same footprint. The new Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization (PAR) complex could also require other base facilities to relocate.
The new PAR complex could be located at one of two sites, called Alternative 3A and Alternative 4, located southwest and south, respectively, of the current PAR facility. It could displace the base’s hazardous cargo pad, the Joint Air Defense Operations Satellite Site, the military working dog kennels, a road on-base and some holes on the golf course.
The final decision between the two sites will be made based on cost, the impact on operations, the environmental impact and other factors. To determine the effect on the environment, the Air Force Civil Engineering Center will study factors such as air quality, noise levels from construction and operations, the effect on the land and water, cultural or historical resources, and environmental justice.
Dale Clark, a civilian and the chief of the National Environmental Policy Act Division at Air Force Civil Engineering Center, explained the concept of environmental justice as relating to how the project would impact communities or groups who are already disadvantaged in other ways.
“It depends on if there are any economically or socially disadvantaged groups or children that seem to be getting any sort of potentially disproportionate impact in comparison to the rest of the community,” he said. “If there are potentially affected groups, we’ll make sure and take a look at those and at times we do contact them as well.”
John Guerra from the Civil Engineering Center said the process of developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) takes between 18 and 24 months to complete. An EIS is the “largest and most complex environmental analysis” that is mandated for projects that encompass a large area or are high-interest. Twelve are in progress right now, he said.
Part of the EIS process includes holding public hearings so residents in the community can come hear about the proposals and offer their input. One was held May 23 at 6 p.m. and the second occurred May 24 at 9 a.m. at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Morningside.
Harper said the public input is valuable.
“We want the public to become educated about the PAR. Maybe there’s something that the Air Force maybe hasn’t considered in our detailed environmental study,” he said.
At these hearings, members of the public could hear from Air Force staff about various aspects of the changes that could take place at Andrews to accommodate the new Air Force Ones. Posters were prepared which showed maps of the concepts for the hangar and various other buildings and sites as they might be configured after the renovations. Harper stressed everything was only a concept, with nothing being finalized yet.
Harper said all of the information presented at the meetings will be available online for the public to view at parprogrameis.com. Additional comments from those who were unable to make either meeting may be submitted online, via email, through the mail or over the telephone, Harper said.