Senators call on Air Force to reject proposal to expand air space into Southeastern Montana

Baucus, Tester Say Move Would “Negatively Impact” State

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester today called on the U.S. Air Force to rethink the proposal to use part of southeastern Montana's air space for missions originating in North and South Dakota. The senators said the proposal would "negatively impact the quality of life for Montanans."

The Air Force has proposed expanding the Ellsworth and Minot Air Force Bases bomber training airspace into large areas of southeastern Montana, known as the Powder River Training Complex (PRTC). Baucus and Tester today wrote a letter to the Acting Secretary of the Air Force and cited several reasons why the proposal, if carried out, would hurt Montana including not letting medical and other small aircraft take off with the ease they currently possess.

"To oversee their operations, many ranchers use small aircraft to fly over their property," wrote Baucus and Tester today to Air Force Acting Secretary Michael B. Donley. "Under the proposal, pilots flying small planes through previously unrestricted areas would have to gather information about Air Force training before taking off. Pilots flying out of the numerous small airstrips under the proposed airspace would be required to receive flight clearance before takeoff.  In addition, general aviation in this area also involves medical emergency aircraft.  Medical aircraft, both helicopter and fixed-wing, are critical in this part of the state.  The expansion of the PRTC has the potential to delay or prevent these life-saving aircraft from fulfilling their mission."

The senators also cited potential increased fire hazard.

"We are concerned that the use of live flare and chaff release would pose a significant fire hazard.  During the summer months, wild fires pose enormous risk to the State of Montana, and often require deployment of state and local fire fighting assets.  As you know, the Forest Service has expressed in town meetings its concern over the potential wildfire risk that flares would pose.  We strongly believe that the State of Montana and local land owners must not be subjected to this potential hazard," the senators wrote.

Baucus and Tester noted that life in southeastern Montana would be more difficult for Montana's farmers and ranchers, and that part of the state's air space would be lost forever.

The senators said they are committed to working together with the Air Force and folks in Montana and the Dakotas to find alternatives to the current proposal.