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Air Force to discuss possible expanded use of region’s airspace

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An F-16 fighter jet from Holloman Air Force Base makes a stop at the Roswell Air Center in September for an educational event. (Submitted Photo)

Draft report analyzes effects of four alternatives for Holloman Air Force Base

The U.S. Air Force has issued a draft report concerning the environmental impacts of expanding the airspace used by Holloman Air Force Base for jet fighter training, and a public meeting will occur Tuesday in Roswell to allow for comments.

The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Roswell Convention & Civic Center, 912 N. Main St. A presentation is due to begin at 6 p.m.

The report analyzes three alternatives for increasing airspace, with two affecting Chaves County. It also analyzes the “no action” alternative that would leave its training airspace the same as it is now.

The alternatives are examined by how training in the expanded regions would affect numerous factors such as commercial and civilian air traffic; noise levels; air quality; wildlife and vegetation; federal lands; and recreational activities.

According to the report, expanded airspace is needed because the F-16 fighter jet used for pilot training at Holloman has advanced over the years.

“The need for the airspace optimization is not driven by the number of aircraft stationed at Holloman AFB, but rather the advancements and capabilities of the aircraft that have evolved over time without modifications to the airspace within which they train,” the report states. “The current Air Force scheduled SUA (special use airspace) available to Holloman AFB pilots does not provide the optimal volume or attributes necessary to complete their training syllabus in an appropriate and efficient manner. This results in fewer pilots ready for the combat mission. The Air Force currently has a pilot shortage which is further affected by the disruption to training, ultimately impacting National Security.”

Depending on the alternative chosen, the expansion plans could affect two counties in Arizona and several in New Mexico, including Chaves, Eddy and Otero.

Alternative 1 — an expansion of the existing Talon Military Operations Area to the south and east — would expand significantly into Eddy County and some into Chaves County and continue its current utilization of a portion of Otero County. Alternative 2 would affect the western and southern New Mexico counties of Socorro, Grant, Sierra, Luna, Hidalgo and Catron, as well as two Arizona counties. Alternative 3 combines elements of Alternative 1 and Alternative 2 to lessen the impacts on each region. The number of sorties in the Talon MOA — the Eddy, Chaves, Otero area — under Alternative 3 would be reduced from about 10,000 or 11,000 a year to about 6,800 a year.

When public “scoping” hearings to receive comments about the potential expanded airspace were held in Carlsbad, Artesia and Roswell in April 2018, private aviation business owners, area legislators and airport directors let U.S. Air Force officials know they thought an expanded Talon MOA could hamper economic development and businesses in their regions. At that time, only Alternative 1 and Alternative 2 had been developed.

Flight instructors, oil and gas representatives who fly private aircraft to examine pipelines, charter flight operators and Roswell Air Center representatives expressed their concerns. Scott Stark, Air Center director, said that the Talon expansion of Alternative 1 might discourage U.S. Navy pilot training from returning to the Roswell airport and could cause American Airlines’ traffic to and from Dallas to be rerouted at times.

At that time, Air Force officials said that this would be the most useful time for comments — after the draft EIS was released.

In addition to the Roswell meeting, the Air Force has scheduled meetings in Hobbs, Artesia, Carlsbad, Socorro, Truth or Consequences, Silver City and Las Cruces.

The president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Center (RCCEDC) said its representatives will be at the Tuesday meeting and any future meetings regarding Holloman’s plans.

“The RCCEDC appreciates our partnership with the business community, the city of Roswell and Chaves County governmental bodies in ensuring we protect the state’s treasure — the Roswell Air Center — while encouraging its economic development and growth to benefit the citizens of our region,” said Michael Espiritu.

The draft report and additional information are available on the Holloman Air Force Base website, HollomanAFBAirspaceEIS.com. Comments can be made until Dec. 16. Implementation of changes are expected during 2020.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.