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Story Last modified at 10:38 p.m. on Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Military wants to expand airspace

Alaska Star staff

photo:Military

Soldiers assigned to 164th Military Police Company conduct squad lanes on Jan. 27 at Landing Zone 17 in preparation for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. The UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was piloted by the Alaska Army National Guard.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson

The military is proposing an expansion of training airspace over one of the state's most popular recreation areas – a wide swath of territory from around Paxson paralleling the Glenn Highway to just north of Wasilla.

Along with expanding the boundaries of the training area, some proposals would allow military aircraft to fly as low as 500 feet above the ground, down from the 5,000-foot limit allowed now.

Those changes could come with flight restrictions for civil pilots.

Aircraft using the airspace would include F-22s, F-16s, AWACS planes and cargo jets.

To see a map of the proposed training airspace, go to http://www.jparceis.com/proposed_actions/05%20Proposed%20Fox%203%20MOA%20Expansion%20Display.pdf

The expansion of the existing Fox 3 Military Operations Area and the new Paxon area are part of a massive statewide proposal that, among other proposals, would also add airspace corridors on Tanana Flats for remote and unmanned aircraft as well as missile live-fire areas in the Gulf of Alaska.

The Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex is in the midst of a public scoping period that extends through Feb. 18. Officials held meetings in Anchorage and Wasilla last month.

Next, the military will prepare a draft environmental impact statement with additional opportunities for public comment.

Military officials explain the proposed expansions were triggered by the changing training demands for aircraft including F-22 fighter jets based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The F-22's "airspeeds and operation altitudes are significantly higher than their predecessors," said Maj. Mike Cabral. The jets can go supersonic without using an afterburner and can "see farther" with advanced sensors.

"To train realistically, they need to start out farther apart," Cabral said. "They cover more ground and see the enemy sooner."

F-16s from Eielson – they mimic enemy aircraft during training – also use the airspace, he said.

The proposed training area is located between Elmendorf and Eielson, making it more convenient for pilots, Cabral said. He could not say what kind of increased air traffic might result from the expansions if enacted.

He emphasized that residents and recreationalists would continue to be able to access land areas.

"We realize this is one of the more popular recreation areas," Cabral said. "Nothing will change in terms of that access in terms of the proposal. People that want to snowmachine, ATV, fish, hunt underneath the Fox MOA, this does not change that in any way."

But Wasilla Mayor Verne Rupright told KTUU Channel 2 news that he is concerned about the proposal's potential impacts on future access to the ground beneath the training areas.

Rupright told the TV station that he wants a guarantee that no restrictions on land access would follow approval of the expanded air training areas.

The military will take public comment on the proposal through Feb. 18. Mail comments to ALCOM Public Affairs, 9480 Pease Ave., Ste. 120 JBER, AK 99506. For more information, call ALCOM public affairs at 552-2341 or go to www.jparceis.com.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, February 9, 2011.