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Holloman AFB proposes to; Alternative 1 - expand existing Talon Military Operations Area (MOA) and associated Air Traffic Controlled Assigned Airspace (ATCAA) Special Use Airspace (SUA) or Alternative 2 - reconfiguring and expanding the Cato/Smitty MOA and associated ATCAA and/or creating a new Lobos MOA/ATCAA SUA. The Air Force holds the view that “Optimizing Air Force controlled SUA would provide the scheduling flexibility necessary to conduct multiple, simultaneous training missions needed by the aircrews stationed at Holloman AFB, New Mexico to meet the pilot initial qualification training requirements (NOI Federal Register August 25, 2017).” However, is this statement by the US Air Force factual, can Holloman AFB F-16 training be conducted utilizing existing airspace MOAs and associated ATCAA SUAs as identified in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) Environmental Assessments and resultant Findings of No Significant Impacts?

In July 2011 Holloman AFB submitted an NEPA Environmental Assessment for “Recapitalization of the 49 Fighter Wing Combat Capabilities and Capacities.” This relocated two F-16 training squadrons consisting of fifty-six F-16s from Luke AFB to Holloman AFB following the departure of the F-22 aircraft. The Environmental Assessment noted that “Overall, any increased use of the Special Use Airspace and Military Transport Routes under the Proposed Action would have no adverse impacts on the use and management of the training airspace within this region. The existing airspace structure would meet the F-16 training requirements without the need to expand this structure or establish new airspace to accommodate those mission activities. Therefore, the airspace environment is in place to support Air Force and Army test and training operations in this area and would be sufficient to accommodate F-16 operations. (Holloman AFB July 2011).” The Holloman AFB “Finding of No Significant Impact” required no additional airspace modifications and training operations continued successfully meeting the requirements of the training syllabus.

In May 2017 Holloman AFB submitted a NEPA Environmental Assessment for “Interim Relocation of Two F-16 Squadrons”. This relocated two squadrons of F-16s currently based at Hill AFB, Utah, to Holloman AFB existing F-16 training unit and would be temporary in nature pending a final location decision, “allowing an increase in fighter pilot production (Holloman AFB May 2017)”. The decision to relocate the F-16s to Holloman AFB was based in part, on “The New Mexico Training Range Initiative (NMTRI) Environment Impact Statement (EIS) Statement (Cannon AFB 2006) which assessed New Mexico airspace for F-16 training and the Pecos MOA complex was expanded east, west, and south to conform with the overlying Sumner ATCAA. This EIS evaluated F-16 training operations and requirements for the 27th Fighter Wing (Cannon AFB) and the New Mexico Air National Guard, sorties that are not flown in 2017 due to installation realignments and mission changes. The airspace evaluated for NMTRI sorties, however, does support F-16 Formal Training Unit operations and is available to meet flying requirements should forty-five F-16 aircraft relocate from Hill AFB to Holloman (Holloman AFB May 2017).” “Per the NMTRI EIS (Cannon AFB, 2006), Holloman AFB has access to the additional airspace required to meet increased F-16 training requirements, and underutilized airspace can support the additional required training time (Holloman May 2017).” “No mitigation measures to reduce potential impacts to airspace would be required to support the interim relocation of additional F-16 Formal Training Unit operations to Holloman AFB (Holloman AFB May 2017).” The Holloman AFB “Finding of No Significant Impact” required no additional airspace modifications and training operations continued successfully meeting the requirements of the training syllabus, however, restricted airspace time lost to White Sands Missile Range test mission was a concern.

In July 2017 Holloman AFB submitted a NEPA Environmental Assessment for “F-16 Use in White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) R-5111 C/D Airspace.” The “purpose and need of this Proposed Action are to maximize the F-16 training use to the full extent of restricted airspace in the vicinity of Holloman AFB. R-5111 C/D is the only restricted airspace not in use by F-16s that can support Holloman AFB’s need to increase pilot production. (Holloman AFB July 2017)”. If this EA finds that the F16 training sorties in R-5111 C/D will not result in significant impacts to human health or the environment, this airspace can become available for F-16 pilot training. In that case, R-5111 A/B/C/D, combined, would provide adequate space for syllabus-required maneuvers to help make up for restricted airspace time lost to WSMR test missions (Holloman July 2017).” This Environmental Assessment is waiting on final disposition.

The Holloman AFB July 2011 and May 2017 NEPA Environmental Assessments and resultant “Findings of No Significant Impact” have demonstrated that Military Operations Areas and associated Air Traffic Controlled Assigned Airspace Special Use Airspace are available to meet the requirements of the syllabus for F-16 aircraft training at Holloman AFB. A review of the NEPA Environmental Assessment documents resulted in the identification of the following airspace that is available for F-16 training, however, not utilized: Bronco 1/2/3, Cato, Pecos south/North low/North High, Valentine, R-5111 C/D and Smitty. The NEPA draft Environmental Assessment for airspace R-5111 C/D is in review and if approved, will mitigate the US Airforce concerned of “restricted airspace time lost to White Sands Missile Range test missions.” Both the Holloman AFB July 2011 and May 2017 Environmental Assessments and resultant “Finding of No Significant Impact,” did not identify nor state there was inadequate training airspace or that trained fighter pilot production would not be met. Holloman AFB has the required airspace, can conduct simultaneous training missions and needs to stay out of the Gila National Forest and Wilderness areas.

Todd North
Silver City, NM

 

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