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Corbett urges federal officials to save the 911th

| Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, 11:30 a.m.
At the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, U.S. Representative Tim Murphy, and Governor Tom Corbett (from left,) have information on the facility provided by the base commander Col. Craig Peters, during a tour, Friday, December 28th, 2012. Governor Corbett held a press conference in support of saving the 911th from closing. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

The Air Force will likely decide by March whether to keep open the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon, giving local officials less than three months to lobby against shuttering it.

Gov. Tom Corbett visited the base Friday, saying it was “shortsighted and a mistake” to target the base for closure.

“I understand the need to cut costs but I do not understand when accountants look at numbers solely,” Corbett said. “It's clear that Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh International Airport and Allegheny County have a great relationship (with the base).”

The future of the 911th base came into doubt earlier this month when Congress' defense spending bill did not include a provision to save the base. Local officials hoped the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act would have prevented the Air Force from closing the 911th until the new National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force had a chance to analyze the Department of Defense proposal.

About 2,000 people work at the 911th or are based there. It is home to eight C-130 cargo planes, although one is on loan to another base.

In February, the Air Force announced plans to close the base by September 2013, saying the move could save $354 million over five years. The Air Force has said it plans to reduce its force by 9,900 people and ground nearly 300 planes. The 911th's C-130s could be retired as part of that plan.

Corbett said he would help the Pennsylvania congressional delegation press to keep the base open. The governor's visit occurred two days after Sens. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh, released a letter they wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, urging him to keep the base open until the commission studying Air Force structure released its findings.

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said the Air Force has not released any financial analysis of the base and has not looked at maintenance costs comparing the 911th to others. Murphy pointed to the deal the base has with Pittsburgh International Airport to use its runways for $20,000.

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

Murphy provided a report from the 911th that shows the planes based there flew more total hours per C-130 than at nine other bases from 2010 to 2012. The report also said the 911th exceeded its recruitment goals from 2005 to 2011.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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