Aug. 12, 2015

A significant revision to airspace over the upper Midwest will take place in September, but its effects on business aircraft operators should be minimal, thanks in part to engagement efforts by NBAA.

Nearly eight years in development, the massive Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) will ultimately encompass 28,000 square miles over portions of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The complex provides a training area for U.S. Air Force bombers operating from Ellsworth and Minot Air Force Bases, enabling those crews and other aircraft to simulate readiness operations over hostile areas.

“We’ve engaged on these issues from the time the PRTC was first proposed in 2007,” said Bob Lamond, NBAA’s director of air traffic services and infrastructure. “The initial proposal was extremely onerous to all of aviation, but thanks to close work between military officials, industry stakeholders and the FAA, the final plan is much more palatable to our community, with priority given to civil IFR aircraft arriving or departing from airports under the footprint of the airspace.”

The final PRTC modifies the existing Powder River A and B military operations areas (MOAs) and associated airspace into 18 MOAs, with an additional 12 sections available for expansion when needed. Three, 8-mile wide corridors (called “gaps”) will provide flight paths between the training areas for civil VFR and IFR traffic, with much of the airspace separated into low-altitude and high-altitude areas so that operations may be conducted while minimizing impact to civilian flights.

The Air Force is implementing a dedicated communications network to recall aircraft operating at low altitudes to accommodate scheduled IFR arrivals and departures into local airports. Service officials also worked to reduce the impact from large-force exercises (LFE) conducted in the PRTC, with a final agreement for a maximum of 10 LFE days per year and one LFE per quarter, lasting no more than three days at a time.

Read the FAA’s Record of Decision about the Powder River Training Complex. (PDF)

NBAA Northwest Regional Representative Kristi Ivey that she and Lamond conducted extensive outreach to NBAA Members and other stakeholders in the affected areas. Lamond also gave presentations about the PRTC’s potential impact at the Montana Aviation Conference earlier this year, and at the 2014 South Dakota Airports Conference.

“We communicated thoroughly with our Members, and presented their statements and concerns in our meetings with officials,” Ivey added. “In particular, the Montana Aeronautics Division worked heavily with us to advocate on behalf of general aviation interests.”

Operations in the PRTC are forecast to save the Air Force an estimated $24 million a year, and nearly 5,000 hours of flight time – important considerations for the aging U.S. bomber fleet.

“It is a win from the standpoint that we are able to effectively support the Department of Defense requirements for special-use airspace,” said John Witucki, project lead for the FAA’s Central Service Area, adding that the end result is “a balanced design ensuring aviation access while mitigating environmental impacts and meeting Air Force training mission requirements.”