Home News Local News Training airspace expansion possible; Air Force deputy chief to speak publicly Thursday

Training airspace expansion possible; Air Force deputy chief to speak publicly Thursday

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Two F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 311th Fighter Squadron fly next to a KC-135 Stratotanker from McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas during a December 2017 training mission over the skies of New Mexico. (Senior Airman Chase Cannon Photo)

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A U.S. Air Force administrator plans to be in Roswell Thursday to meet with a Congressional delegation from the area and to talk publicly about the possibility of expanding its current flight training airspace in the Roswell-Artesia-Carlsbad area.

Edward Chupein, deputy chief of operational training division systems and infrastructure, will meet with staff of the offices of Sens. Tom Udall (D-Santa Fe) and Martin Heinrich (D-Albuquerque) and Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) on Thursday morning.

He then will present information to the Roswell City Council Thursday night, according to an Air Force spokesperson with the 49th Wing Public Affairs unit.

The communications officer for Pearce said the meeting with Chupein will be a continuation of discussions.

“Our office has continued to work with community members, stakeholders, local officials in conjunction with the Air Force to ensure all viewpoints are taken into account as the Air Force assesses changes to the Special Use Airspace in southern New Mexico,” said Keeley Christensen.

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Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo is studying three possibilities for altering the airspace it would use in the future to train F-16 fighter pilots.

One of those possibilities involves expanding what is called the Talon Military Operations Area (MOA) in the southeastern New Mexico region. The MOA that covers Roswell would be expanded to the south and east and would increase the minimum flight height from 300 feet above ground to 500 feet. The two other possible expansions or additions would not affect this region. The Air Force has indicated that it could decide to adopt one of the proposed MOA expansions, or both, or none.

Maps of the possible expansion sites are available on the web at hollomanafbairspaceeis.com.

While some local leaders have expressed their support for the Air Force and its training mission, they also have said that they want to talk to officials prior to the writing of the draft so that they can talk about reducing possible detrimental effects on commercial airlines, aviation-related businesses, medical evacuation services and private pilots using the airports in Roswell, Artesia and Carlsbad.

Right now, the Air Force is working on its draft Environmental Impact Statement as part of its Special Use Airspace Optimization plan. While three public “scoping” meetings were held in September prior to work commencing on the draft, some local business and government leaders have said few people knew about the meetings and they would welcome more opportunity for input.

Copies of letters sent to the Air Force indicate that at least a few local business leaders and a pilot association have talked about the potential loss of millions to the local economy if the Talon MOA is expanded.

The worries about the effects in Roswell are not shared by private pilot and chair of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners Robert Corn. He said he has met with U.S. Air Force personnel and studied the airway and MOA maps and has found no reasons for concern.

“I have looked at their proposal, but I see no change in their plans for Roswell,” he said, explaining that the expansion would in no way alter air access to Amarillo, Dallas-Fort Worth, El Paso or Albuquerque.

He said he has expressed to local leaders his willingness to meet about the issue and, if necessary, travel to Holloman to discuss concerns with Air Force officials, although he reiterated that he sees no reasons for Roswell airport users to be concerned.

“Now I will say if I were living in Artesia and Carlsbad, I would be looking at it differently,” he said, adding that he has expressed that thought to Lea and Eddy county commissioners. “They need to look at it closely.”

The Air Force’s public presentation is expected to occur toward the beginning of the Roswell City Council meeting. That meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. in the Bassett Auditorium of the Roswell Museum and Art Center, 100 W. 11th St. The city also plans to broadcast the meeting live on the internet.

Public comments about the proposed MOA alterations are still being accepted, with information about submitting emails or letters available on the Air Force website.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.