By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
Training airspace near Cannon Air Force Base could be expanded by the end of November, according to Air Force officials.
A report on the impact of increasing airspace near Cannon was officially released Wednesday. Before the Air Force can make a decision on whether to expand airspace, federal environmental law requires a 30-day public comment period.
The New Mexico Training Range Initiative Environmental Impact Statement concludes the airspace expansion would have minimal impact and significantly improve air combat training in New Mexico.
The impact statement also outlines an alternative to the expansion, which is taking no action at all.
According to Initiative Project Manager Michael Jones of Langley Air Force Base, Va., the initiative would expand airspace above Cannon Air Force Base in De Baca, Chaves and Lincoln counties. A slice of sky above Guadalupe County would also be harvested, he said.
Jones said the expansion is needed for F-16 training, especially in time of war.
“This is certainly valid for all New Mexico-based F-16 aircrews,” he said.
The primary users of the expanded airspace would be members of the Kirtland National Guard and the 27th Fighter Wing at Cannon. The initiative would permit supersonic training at 10,000 feet above mean sea level and extend the use of chaffs and flares, according to the statement.
Air Force officials held meetings in January 2005 to gather public input on the initiative. Input received and Air Force responses to it are included in the impact statement.
This initiative is not tied to the incoming Air Force Special Operations mission at Cannon, Jones said.
“This will not enable (Air Force Special Operations) to use the space,” Jones said.
The Air Force Special Operations Command will assume ownership of Cannon in October 2007.
A separate environmental impact study is being crafted for Special Operations intents and purposes. A draft of that study is slated for release in March.
According to Jones, the Air Force Special Operations Command would also need to research the impact of its use of Initiative airspace, even if the Initiative is approved in November.
Jones said doubts about Cannon’s future and the subsequent assignment of a new mission delayed the Initiative by about a year.
A copy of the Initiative statement can be viewed online at www.cannon.af.mil. Hard copies are available at Clovis-Carver, Roswell, Portales, Fort Sumner, Moise Memorial and Vaughn public libraries.
Public comments concerning the New Mexico Training Range Initiative can be submitted to: U.S. Air Force, Headquarters Air Combat Command, A7ZP, 129 Andrews St., Suite 102, Langley AFB, VA 23665-2769, Attention: Michael Jones.
The Air Force is not required to respond to comments received in this 30-day window, but comments will be considered in determining the final initiative decision, according to an Air Force press release.