Funding for the 109th Airlift Wing's continued mission to Antarctica was approved along with the National Science Foundation's $7.8 billion budget.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., announced that the funding to maintain four ski-equipped LC-130 craft stationed at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Glenville was included along with the foundation’s budget, which was adopted as part of the $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday. The U.S. Senate passed the measure Thursday. The president was expected to sign it.
“It means a hub of jobs and commerce in the Capital Region will continue to receive necessary federal support and it means they can continue to conduct valuable scientific research missions at the very ends of the earth,” Schumer said in a statement released Thursday.
The 109th, which also flies missions to Greenland during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, enlists nearly 500 guardsmen. Altogether, the base employs nearly 1,300 people and has an annual economic impact estimated at more than $123 million.
The unique ski-equipped LC-130 cargo aircraft flown by the Glenville-based Air National Guard unit normally haul the foundation’s supplies and personnel from McMurdo Station in Antarctica to remote outposts spread across the 5.4 million-square-mile landmass. The 109th’s mission at the South Pole begins in October and usually extends until the Antarctic fall in mid-February.
Last year, the planes were sought as an option to fly supply missions from McMurdo to Christchurch, New Zealand, after the station’s main runway became unusable by wheeled aircraft. Pegasus Field, a runway built on blue ice that can accommodate large wheeled aircraft, became pock-marked with soft spots after a relatively balmy Antarctic summer.
Earlier this month, Schumer visited the Glenville base in an effort to draw attention to the chance that the foundation’s funding — and the 109th’s primary mission — could be in jeopardy. With the recent sequester and general pressure to trim government spending, he warned that the foundation could fall prey to budget cuts.
“The National Guard is under funding pressure, as is the [foundation],” Schumer said during an appearance at one of Stratton’s hangars on Jan. 4.
The guard has already been facing budget pressures imposed by the federal government. Earlier this year, about 400 workers employed by the New York National Guard — including a sizeable percentage working at Stratton Air National Guard base — were furloughed as part of the federal government shutdown.
The base lost three C-130s as part of the military’s spending cuts in 2012. But the U.S. Air Force decided to return the big transport airplanes to the base the following year after a committee of military personnel determined the aircraft should remain in its fleet until 2015.
A spokesman for the Guard deferred comment to Schumer’s office Thursday. The unit maintains a total of 10 LC-130s and two wheeled aircraft.
Schumer said the base pays more than $60 million in payroll annually and makes about $24 million in expenditures. In addition, he said, the base expends about $20 million in secondary jobs that it supports.
“The [foundation’s] commitment to fully fund the research missions at Stratton will keep the 109th Airlift Wing in the sky and keep the local economy flying high with them,” Schumer said.