New tenant possible at Guard location: Richmond airport talking with federal agency about taking over part of base

Aug. 14--Richmond International Airport is dickering with an unnamed government agency to take over part of the Air National Guard base.

"We're in the middle of negotiations with a federal agency for a phase-one development that involves a significant aeronautical component," said Jon Mathiasen, president and chief executive officer of the Capital Region Airport Commission.

Mathiasen would not disclose which agency the commission is talking to about moving into the Air Guard location, other than to say the agency has an emergency response function.

"We are working on an operation that, over a period of time, would grow," he said. "It's certainly not in hand yet, but it has the potential for having two to three hundred employees when fully manned."

Economically, an operation that large would completely compensate for the loss of the Air Guard base's 299 full-time jobs that are moving to Langley Air Force Base in Hampton Roads.

The move to Langley is being made in concert with the current round of U.S. military base restructuring.

The Air Force is consolidating the 192nd with the active-duty Air Force's 1st Fighter Wing to fly the F-22 Raptor, a supersonic stealth fighter.

The 192nd has about 1,000 members -- more than two-thirds of them traditional, or part-time, Guard members. Only a handful remain at the Sandston base.

The airport commission owns and operates the airport in Sandston. The Air National Guard has been leasing a 142-acre site from the commission for $1 a year.

Under the proposal being considered, the Air Guard would give up a portion of the land it leases to the incoming federal agency but at market rates, Mathiasen said.

"They are looking at hangar and office facilities, and aircraft parking area," he said of the possible new tenant. "The [Air Guard] facilities would allow them to expand to meet their mission goals."

The airport commission also has other ideas for the Air Guard's operations area, such as pitching it for use as an airline maintenance base.

"We already have two, and the area over there lends itself to a third one," Mathiasen said.

Meanwhile, the Virginia National Guard supports the idea of the federal agency the airport is negotiating with to use its surplus facilities.

"We hope . . . to have a presence at the Air Guard base in the future that will complement other federal agencies and will enable the Guard to . . . grow," said Maj. Gen. Robert B. Newman Jr., the state Guard's top military commander.

"We have a lot of buildings out there that have tremendous utility for military operations," he said. "We're in a secure facility. We have access to 9,000 feet of hard-surface runway," capable of handling heavy military air transports as large as the C-5 Galaxy.

The Army National Guard also has helicopter and airplane units based at the southeastern end of the runway.

Contact Peter Bacque at (804) 649-6813 or pbacque@timesdispatch.com

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