TAMPA — A newly refurbished runway at MacDill Air Force Base may soon be getting busier.
The Tampa Bay Times has learned that MacDill is one of two bases competing to host 12 more KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling jets and the estimated 400 personnel who come with them.
That is in addition to 16 Stratotankers already there and another eight set to begin arriving this year.
The Air Force is moving the planes to make room for newer KC-46A Pegasus tankers — part of a $50 billion program to replace the aging fleet of Stratotankers with 179 new planes by 2028.
The 12 Stratotankers will be coming from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan., said Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman. MacDill is competing with Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Wash., for the older jets.
Stefanek said a decision will be made soon about the jets, which first rolled off the assembly lines when Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House.
The eight Stratotankers scheduled to begin arriving this year will come with 220 active duty personnel and 75 reservists, the Air Force said. Approximately 400 personnel would be associated with 12 additional aircraft, Stefanek said.
She said the Air Force will decide between MacDill and Fairchild based on four criteria: mission, capacity, environmental considerations and cost.
The jets would be shared at MacDill by the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the base host unit, and the 927th Air Refueling Wing, an Air Force Reserve wing.
Crews from MacDill are helping to fuel the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. The base also provides refueling for domestic training missions.
Twice, the Air Force has found MacDill unsuitable to house the new tankers. But to be in the running for additional Statotankers is a sign MacDill is well-regarded by the Air Force, said the head of a local support organization pushing to bring the additional tankers to Tampa.
"MacDill is an ideal location," said Lisa Monnet, president of the Tampa Bay Defense Alliance, which is working with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, to advocate for the base.
MacDill, Monnet said, has "ample ramp, a large runway, growth capacity in the industrial zones, infrastructure and comprehensive strategies in the out-years to support the additional aircraft."
Beyond infrastructure, MacDill is also geographically well-positioned for the additional 12 jets, Monnet said.
Its location "is well-suited to provide air refueling support for the training of the newest fighter aircraft in the Air Force inventory and to act as a hub for any contingency" in the continental United States or overseas, she said.
"The Tampa Bay community has embraced the tanker mission for MacDill and is supportive of an additional 12 KC-135R tanker aircraft to be located at MacDill," Monnet said.
MacDill has the capacity and space to expand mobility operations to "easily handle" 36 or more aircraft, she said.
Aside from the jets, 23 Black Hawk helicopters from an Army Reserve unit now stationed at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport are also heading to MacDill.
"Cooperation with the FAA and Tampa International Airport is exceptional and the increased load should cause no congestion issues," Monnet said.
MacDill officials did not immediately comment.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.