FAA makes safety commitment on Air Force expansion

Senator Steve Daines secured a commitment from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to maintain a high level of aviation safety in southeastern Montana in the wake of the Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) expansion, according to recent statements.

By Lori Kesinger

The FAA is working on the final plans to allow military training exercises at the newly formed PRTC over the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana, including most of Fallon County.

Last month, the FAA approved the expansion of the Air Force PRTC spanning nearly 35,000 square miles, the largest in the continental United States. The airspace will be used by B-1 bomber aircrews from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and B-52 bomber aircrews from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

In last week’s Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing, Senator Daines prompted FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to assure the FAA would take steps to maintain safe skies in southeastern Montana. “I think we share the same fear that the communications system is a great step, but I know the folks up there aren’t quite convinced that it goes far enough,” Daines stated. “Can I get your commitment to work with the local airports and stakeholders to provide the appropriate communications and radar equipment necessary to maintain a high level of aviation safety?”

“We will certainly continue to work with the community,” Huerta responded. “This is something that we’ve spent a lot of time really trying to understand and discussions with local stakeholders and users there.”

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement expanded training cannot begin until the FAA publishes the expansion in its aeronautical maps. The full airspace will not be open until an aircraft recall communications system is installed.

Montana’s congressional delegation and state aviation officials continue to voice their concerns about the expansion. The Air Force could begin using parts of the expanded airspace in September.