Proposed F-16 squadron relocation raises safety concerns

February 21, 2013

AOPA identified safety, environmental, and airspace-access issues that should be addressed in an environmental impact study of an Air Force proposal to move its 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. Members may comment by March 1 as provided below on the proposal.

The squadron relocation would involve moving 18 assigned F-16 aircraft and three backup F-16s to Elmendorf, and the transfer of approximately 542 positions there from Eielson, the Air Force has said.

AOPA submitted formal comments detailing the issues in need of study after a series of public meetings in which the Air Force sought to identify the range of topics to review on the proposed relocation of forces and personnel.

Alaska’s aviation-dependent nature requires careful study of any proposal that would squeeze access to airspace or influence safety for general aviation operations, AOPA said. With numerous airports, seaplane bases, and other landing facilities located within 10 miles of Elmendorf, the need exists to study how safety—including wake turbulence hazards—would be affected by additional military traffic.

With Merrill Field less than two nautical miles from the end of Elmendorf’s Runway 34, the environmental impact statement should analyze “the extent to which the F-16 squadron, or other aircraft training with the squadron,” would have an impact on the airport’s traffic.

IFR access to Anchorage International Airport is already under pressure, making it necessary for the environmental impact study to analyze the impact the F-16 squadron, and other aircraft that might train with them, on instrument operations. The analysis should include evaluating the economic impact of any capacity reduction, AOPA wrote.

Use of military operations areas (MOAs) would change in the area as some training was shifted closer to Elmendorf, as was noted at the public information sessions in February, AOPA said.

“Specifically mentioned were the Susitna MOA, Fox MOA and Warning Area W-612 in the Gulf of Alaska. It is assumed that due to complexity of training over the Gulf, that the majority of training would be focused on Susitna and Fox MOAs,” wrote Tom George, AOPA Alaska regional manager.

AOPA expressed concern about traffic and noise issues raised by changed use of the Susitna MOA. The MOA is located on the southern side of Denali National Park, which hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually and is the focus of cooperative efforts to reduce the noise level in the park.

AOPA urged broadening the scope of the alternatives identified for use of the remaining forces at Eielson in light of the “dramatic” changes in the Arctic over the last decade. In 2010, AOPA was a participant in the Arctic Aviation Experts Conference and the Arctic Civil Infrastructure Workshop, where those changes were explored.

“Yet the two alternatives proposed to accomplish this purpose and need are very narrowly defined, and do not consider the broader activities in the region,” AOPA wrote.

Members may submit comments by March 1 to Mr. Allen Richmond, AFCEC/CZN, 2261 Hughes Ave, Ste. 155, Lackland AFB, TX 78236-9853. Please share your comments with AOPA.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.