TAMPA — The U.S. Army Reserve plans to move 23 Black Hawk helicopters stationed at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, records show.
In return for the helicopters, the airport will get several Army Reserve fixed-wing aircraft in a deal closely monitored by U.S. Rep. David Jolly. The swap will ensure that the airport facility designed 10 years ago and championed by Jolly's predecessor, C.W. Bill Young, remains in use.
Jolly, R-Indian Shores, initially opposed the transfer of the helicopters to MacDill. In a letter written May 1 to the chief of the Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley, he acknowledged that there was not enough space in the Clearwater Aviation Support Facility to hold the Black Hawks and that leasing the facility was becoming increasingly expensive.
Still, he wrote, he wanted "to maintain robust operations there."
"I urge you to consider alternate U.S. Army Reserve missions that could backfill this facility," he wrote in the letter.
Talley responded two weeks later, assuring the congressman that the "Army Reserve fully intends to maintain an aviation presence at the Clearwater Aviation Support Facility."
Approximately 50 people and eight aircraft will be moved by 2018 to the Clearwater fixed-wing unit, a better fit for a facility that was designed to hold eight aircraft and currently holds 23.
For MacDill, the move will bring the 23 Black Hawks and as many as 200 people to the base, a major boon at a time when the Pentagon is calling for more base closings. To accommodate the helicopters, the military plans to spend about $55 million in 2016 on a new aviation support facility.