AOPA, senators oppose Air Force's unwarranted airspace grab

August 7, 2008

AOPA and members of Congress are opposing an Air Force proposal that would create the Powder River Military Training Complex and take up airspace over four states: Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

The military operations areas (MOAs) would contain bomber aircraft flying at high speeds and low altitudes, along with the release of chaff and flares, a combination that AOPA says poses a danger to general aviation aircraft.

“Because the proposed airspace will be accessible to nonparticipating VFR aircraft, there are increased risks associated with the release of chaff and flares that the USAF may not have identified,” said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. AOPA has submitted formal comments to the Air Force. “Because the flares burn in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and for at least 500 feet vertically, there is a risk of the flare embers coming into contact with non-participating aircraft.”

It is also possible that chaff, which must form a cloud of metallic fibers 30 meters in diameter, could come into contact with other aircraft and cover the windscreen, damage the engine or propeller, contaminate environmental systems, and interfere with navigation and communication equipment.

AOPA noted that most GA pilots deviate around MOAs, even though they are permitted to fly through the special-use airspace. The proposed complex is so large, though, it would significantly raise the cost of deviating.

“This can have severe economic consequences on not only the general aviation industry as a whole, but would also spread to other segments of the economy,” Rudinger said.

Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester also weighed in, explaining the negative economic impact the proposal would have in the southeastern part of the state.

“Southeastern Montana is one of the most rural areas of the state, populated by isolated ranching operations. To oversee their operations, many ranchers use small aircraft to fly over their property,” the senators said, explaining that pilots previously flying in unrestricted areas would not have to get information about the status of the airspace before flying.

The senators also expressed concern that the airspace could cause delays for critical emergency medical flights.

In addition, flight schools and FBOs located under the complex could suffer a loss of business. In some cases, flight instructors and students would have to fly 50 miles to get outside of the airspace in order to have a safe environment for flight training. This would deter students and drive away business.

Because of the dramatic negative impact this complex would have over a four-state area, AOPA has reminded the Air Force that it is bound to consider all of the economic impacts associated with it before proceeding.

“The onus is on the USAF to conduct a full economic analysis as part of this environmental impact statement (EIS) to quantify to the public and local, state, and federal elected officials the full impact this proposed complex will have,” Rudinger concluded. “AOPA contends that without this analysis, the EIS is incomplete and invalid.”