Last week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the expansion of the Air Force Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) over the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana, includingmost of Fallon County.
By Lori Kesinger
Last week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the expansion of the Air Force Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) over the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana, including most of Fallon County. The designated airspace will become effective Sept. 17, 2015.
When implemented, the PRTC will be the largest Air Force training space in the continental United States, spanning nearly 35,000 square miles. The airspace will be used by B-1 bomber aircrews from Ellsworth Air Force Base, SD and B-52 bomber aircrews from Minot Air Force Base, ND.
The four quadrants of the expanded airspace each have varying altitude sections of low, medium, and high with set limitations of use. Large Force Exercises will be conducted up to ten days each year, allowing aircrews to more effectively train for combat situations.
Most flights in and out of Baker operate within the low-altitude section. The FAA is requiring the Air Force to meet certain conditions prior to its approval for activating the low-altitude Military Operating Areas (MOAs), including communication capabilities.
“They are trying to de-conflict as much as possible, it is limited,” said Roger Meggers, Baker Air Service owner.
The Air Force acknowledged in a study released Nov. 28 last year that low-altitude flights and sonic booms could startle residents and livestock in the region. It has not provided any information on costs associated with the expansion, including potential damages to affected landowners and ranchers. Montana’s congressional delegation and state aviation officials have fought the expansion, saying the bombers will disrupt rural communities and livestock productivity.
Senator Steve Daines expressed his disappointment with the FAA’s decision to approve the proposed expansion of the PRTC, but reaffirmed his commitment to working with the FAA and Air Force to protect general aviation safety and economic activity in the region.
“It’s disappointing that the FAA has approved this expansion without addressing Montanans’ numerous concerns about the proposal’s impact on safety, emergency services, and economic activity,” Daines stated. “I will continue working to secure the radar capabilities needed to protect aviation safety in southeastern Montana and will diligently monitor implementation of the expansion to ensure it does not have adverse effects on Montanans’ safety and the region’s economy.”
Senator Jon Tester spoke with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to share his concerns with the decision and to ask the Administrator to prioritize safety as the FAA constructs a timeline for the expansion.
“I’m extremely disappointed the FAA is greenlighting this expansion in the face of real concerns and opposition on the ground. I will hold the Air Force and the FAA accountable as this expansion moves forward to ensure the training complex doesn’t negatively impact general aviation, agriculture production, or energy development.”
“Our senators have been very supportive of our position,” Meggers said. “We are very appreciative of their support.”
The Air Force claims the expanded area will help aircrews train under realistic scenarios for a full spectrum of operations.
For the past nine years, South Dakota Senator John Thune has advocated for the expansion in an effort to prevent Ellsworth Air Force Base from being shut down under the Base Realignment and Closure, a federal cost-cutting program.
“It is irritating for Montana to suffer for their economic benefit,” said Commissioner Steve Baldwin. “It will definitely impact our economic outlook.”
“Congressman Zinke and both Senators have obviously opposed this. We can’t thank them enough,” Baldwin said. “They have really been instrumental to where it is currently. I would encourage people to continue to contact them and to stay active with it.”
A full summary of all mitigations and documents relating to the expansion can be found at: