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Navy confirms P-8A squadrons

Four squadrons of the new P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft will be based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. - Submitted photo
Four squadrons of the new P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft will be based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
— image credit: Submitted photo

Four squadrons of P-8A Poseidon jets, a total of 24 aircraft, will start arriving at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station no later than 2012.

As expected, the Department of the Navy officially announced the plans to base four of the 12 squadrons of P-8As, currently under construction at the Boeing plant in Renton, on Whidbey. The P-8A Multi-Mission Aircraft, a derivation of next-generation 737-800 commercial airplanes, will replace the aging, turboprop P-3C Orions.

The P-8As will continue the mission of long-range, anti-submarine warfare, patrol and surveillance over both land and water. The switch will mean a 318-person decrease in the number of Navy personnel at the Whidbey base and a loss to the economy of $28.8 million a year, but there will be a short-term creation of jobs because of necessary construction projects.

Dick Devlin, president of the Oak Harbor Navy League, said he is excited about the news. He said the Navy League is already heavily engaged and supportive of the “patrol and reconnaissance folks” as they go through the transition.

Devlin said it’s a time of considerable changes for the Whidbey base, with the new Growlers and Poseidon aircraft headed there. He pointed out that both of the new aircraft are made by Boeing.

“It will be an all-Boeing base,” he said. “Boeing will have a huge footprint on the base, while in the past they didn’t have that kind of presence in the major airframes.”

Mac McDowell, former county commissioner who has been heavily involved with the Navy, said he was a little disappointed by the news. He had hoped the Navy would have based more squadrons on Whidbey, which would have been the most economical choice.

“The option they picked was not the least costly to the public, but I guess it satisfied some senators,” he said.

Navy officials chose the “preferred alternative” among the seven options identified in the

environmental impact statement for siting the aircraft. In addition to the squadrons based at Whidbey, five fleet squadrons with a fleet replacement squadron will be at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. and three fleet squadrons will be at Marine Corps Base Hawaii Kaneohe Bay, with periodic squadron detachment operations at NAS North Island.

The introduction of the P-8A to the bases is projected to be completed by 2019.

One of the other options, which McDowell preferred, would have placed seven squadrons on Whidbey.

The chosen alternative comes with mixed news for the Whidbey community. According to the environmental impact statement, the new squadrons will require 318 fewer Navy personnel than the current squadrons. That’s largely because the new aircraft will need far less maintenance.

After all, the P-3C Orions have been serving for 40 years.

But Devlin said he expects more civilians at the base to make up for the loss of military personnel, at least to some extent.

“As with the Growlers, the Navy is moving from active duty to a few more civilian contractors,” he said.

The drop in the number of military personnel translates to a $28.8 million loss to the economy each year. On the other hand, the change will require significant construction on the base, including the building of a new hangar, that would temporarily support an estimated 1,990 jobs and inject $410 million into the local economy, the environmental statement says.

Other changes deemed “minor” in the EIS are a 10 percent decrease in aircraft operations, a decrease in pollution and an increase of noise by one to two decibels.

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