RAF operations have brought over $700,000 to local economy
PASO ROBLES — Since the beginning of January, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) has been operating out of Paso Robles, conducting training with their new military aircraft, the Airbus A400M Atlas (A400).
For the past decade or more, the RAF has been utilizing Fort Hunter Liggett, located just outside of Paso Robles, for parachute training with the A400; however, this is the RAF’s first time basing its operations in Paso Robles Municipal Airport and bringing along the A400.
RAF Squadron Leader Derick Blair explained to Paso Robles Press, “We are here to do high-altitude parachuting. We get great weather. We have loads of wonderful areas of terrain here that are perfect for challenging those troopers.”
Blair, who has been flying the A400 for the past eight years, says the larger and faster aircraft will be replacing the popular C130, which will be officially retired from the RAF in June.
Prior to basing operations in Paso Robles, the RAF would make a home base in San Luis Obispo at the ACI Jet facility. ACI Jet, which has been operating on the Central Coast for 20 years, provides all the logistics for private and military aviation clients, including maintenance, fuel, and concierge services.
In a nutshell, ACI Jet General Manager of the Paso Robles location Luke Newlon says they “Fly, fix, and fuel.”
The RAF’s move to the Paso Robles comes due to the increasing commercialization and development of San Luis Obispo. But the over 70 RAF troopers and personnel don’t seem to mind staying in the Central Coast’s wine country.
“We’ve been welcomed here, and it’s been really wonderful to be here,” says Blair, who has been enjoying the recent sunshine. “I sincerely hope we get back here in the summer.”
Some may be wondering why the A400 is such a big deal. The European-built military aircraft can go twice as far, carry twice the amount of freight, and is faster than its American C130 counterpart.
Blair — who cannot disclose how much the new aircraft costs — explains that following operations and combat in Afghanistan, military equipment and vehicles all became too large for the C130 to carry. Come this June, the remaining 14 C130s in the RAF’s fleet will be sold and replaced with the A400. Eventually, Blair says the RAF will have a fleet of 22 A400s.
“It’s much more powerful,” Blair says, referring to the A400, which has the capability to get off the ground faster.
The new capabilities of the A400 allow their military to be more strategic in their ability to bring larger loads into smaller areas, whether it is for the army or for humanitarian reasons.
Blair explains the C130 has been all over the world serving in combat operations and humanitarian relief efforts.
“Those humanitarian disasters are where these aircraft really stand up,” he said.
The RAF has been drawn to Paso Robles, and the Central Coast, for its favorable climate and the diverse terrain offered at Fort Hunter Liggett.
The airmen come to the Central Coast for training two to three times a year for about six weeks on each visit. During that visit, the RAF estimated it brings over $700,000 to the local economy. Breaking down that figure, it means over $300,000 for lodging and nearly $200,000 for meals, plus more for car rentals, fuel, and maintenance.
“It’s very much a positive economic benefit for Paso Robles, especially in the off-season,” says Newlon.
The RAF plans to return to Paso Robles for additional training around July 4.
Newlon says bringing the RAF to Paso Robles has been a collaborative effort with the community.
“The airport management has been great and very supportive and helpful in making this happen,” he said. “We couldn’t have done this without the city’s support.”