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Sunday, December 21, 2014         

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Kaneohe best place for sub-hunting aircraft


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Angie Homola, a county commissioner from Washington state, did not hesitate to advance the interests of her neighboring naval air station where the basing of specialized aircraft. Surely she won't object if Hawaii boosters do the same.

At issue is the location of 18 Navy P-8A Poseidon sub-hunting jets: at the Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, or at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay. In the original base selection both were due to receive the Poseidons and their attendant squadrons, but potential Pentagon cutbacks may change plans, compelling the Navy to choose one or the other.

It's plainly understandable why Homola, the wife of a Navy Reserve pilot formerly stationed at Barbers Point, would try to make the case for Whidbey, an installation in Puget Sound, about 80 miles north of Seattle. It's the largest employer in the region, and its impact on the local economy has been estimated at $500 million annually.

But facts do matter and, on balance, Kaneohe appears to have them on its side.

The strongest argument that Homola makes, one that's corroborated in the project's environmental impact statement, is that Kaneohe's 7,771-foot runway falls short of the 8,000 feet suggested for "extreme operational conditions." But only Homola seems to argue that this is a serious problem with no workaround available.

As Star-Advertiser writer William Cole reported last week, the Navy countered with a note in its EIS that "aircraft loads can be managed to decrease the required runway length for takeoff."

Further, the Poseidons have the fuselage of a 737-800 and the wings of a 737-900. A 2006 release from Boeing, the manufacturer of the 737 line, indicated that newer 737s allowed "operators to fly increased payload in and out of airports with runways less than 5,000 feet long."

Kaneohe officials also take issue with Homola's assertion that the Marine base runway also can't fully accommodate its P-3C Orions, the aging propeller craft that the Poseidons will replace. There's been no operational problems, they said.

Homola argued that Hawaii has higher costs of living, and that much is undeniable. But she strains credulity when she added that Whidbey offers the "optimal strategic location." It's hard to imagine a location more strategically advantageous than Kaneohe, with ready access to Asia-Pacific military theaters.

What makes her cheerleading disconcerting is that she's launched a letter-writing campaign in the hopes of winning over Navy brass and her state's congressional delegation. Our own members of the U.S. House and Senate ought to be poised to do some advocacy, too.

But with any luck, the final decision will be based on the facts of the matter, not the relative influence of elected officials. And the fact of the matter is, Kaneohe Bay is still the right choice.






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