CHICOPEE, Mass. (AP) — Westover Air Reserve Base will lose half its massive C-5 cargo planes and more than 300 jobs as a result of military budget cuts, base officials announced Monday.
Eight of the 439th Airlift Wing's 16 C-5 planes, the largest military aircraft in the U.S., will move to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas beginning next year, they said.
Air Force officials blamed Pentagon budget cuts for the changes.
The job cuts include the expected loss of 59 full-time enlisted personnel and 275 reservists, although final numbers have yet to be determined, said Brig. Gen. Steven Vautrain, commander of the 439th at Westover.
The aircraft will be moved from Westover starting in March 2015 as part of an upgrade of the C-5 fleet, with the personnel reductions beginning in October 2015, Vautrain said.
Eight of the refurbished aircraft will operate out of the Texas base, and eight new models will remain at Westover.
Vautrain said the changes would not be the end of the air wing or the base.
"We'll remain strong. It's a wonderful base, we have great support from the community and we plan on being here for the long haul," he added.
The job cuts will result in hardship for members of the base, but efforts will be made to place full-time employees into other positions, Vautrain said. Finding positions within the base for reservists will be more challenging, he said, but some may choose to retire and others could find positions at other bases, including Bradley Air National Guard Base in Connecticut and the Otis Air National Guard base on Cape Cod.
The cuts are part of an effort to slash $487 billion from the nation's defense budget over eight years. The winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and automatic federal budget cuts hastened the changes at Westover, Vautrain said.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, whose district includes Chicopee where the base is located, said Monday the situation remained "fluid" and that he believed there was still time to reverse the decision. He said he planned to arrange a meeting of the Massachusetts congressional delegation with Defense Department officials.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey also said he found the announcement troubling and would work with Gov. Deval Patrick and the delegation to see if it could be changed.
"Westover is a critical asset for western Massachusetts and the local Chicopee economy," Markey said in a statement.
The C-5 fleet will be upgraded with new engines during the changeover, base officials said. The C-5 can carry a payload of up to 270,000 pounds a distance of up to 6,000 miles, according to the base's website.
The aircraft has been critical in recent U.S. military operations, flying nearly 75,000 hours and transporting more than 200,000 tons of cargo between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2012.
Westover is located on 2,511 acres, making it the nation's largest reserve base by land mass.