By Tara May: PNT Correspondent
ROSWELL — Several ranchers and a non-military pilot brought up concerns at a public meeting here to discuss Cannon Air Force Base’s proposed military airspace expansion.
Monday’s meeting at Goddard High School was the first of four public hearings taking place in the communities impacted by the expansion, including meetings in Santa Rosa tonight, Fort Sumner on Thursday and Clovis on Friday.
The initiative expands military airspace around Cannon from 2,600 square miles to 3,300 square miles.
It also allows planes to fly lower and increases the sonic boom average from one every five days to two every three days.
Sonic booms, or shock waves, are caused when planes break the sound barrier, usually when they react to a threat, either through acceleration or breaking strong in either direction.
Pat Boone, a rancher on the eastern edge of the impacted area, said he is concerned the noise level is going to disrupt his family’s way of life.
Boone said the booms and the noise level of the airplanes at more than 1,000 feet above ground cause cattle to break out and windows to rattle in their homes, and he can only imagine an increase of those problems if planes are allowed to fly as low as 500 feet above ground.
“I know we’re few and far between out here,” Boone said, “but those sonic booms are going to be significant, and they’re going to bother us.”
Several more ranchers in the impacted area echoed Boone’s worries.
Air Force Col. Tip Wight, who is in charge of all flying operations at Cannon, told the 50 members of the public who gathered for the meeting why he thought the expansion was necessary.
Wight said the expansion would allow pilots to train at varying elevations, therefore creating a more realistic simulation of combat fighting.
He added that many pilots have their first sonic boom experiences during combat “with the enemy shooting at them.”
“That’s not the way I want our sons and daughters training,” Wight said. “We want to train with the threat.”
Steve Uslan, a representative of the U.S. Pilots Association and former president of the New Mexico Pilots Association, said he supports the initiative, but he is concerned how it will affect airspace for private and commercial pilots whose planes traverse the area.
No radio transmission is available starting about 30 miles north of Roswell until about 10 miles east of Albuquerque, Uslan said.
He said he knows himself and many other pilots will not feel safe traversing military airspace without radio guidance, thus causing traffic to have to find a longer alternative route around the military airspace.
Uslan is proposing the Air Force implement some sort of remote radar site in the area to help separate traffic and increase aviation safety.
“The solution is easy: The Air Force should control the traffic separation, not the (Federal Aviation Administration),” he said.
Brenda Cook, the project manager for the initiative, said the pilots can travel around the impacted area if they feel the need to avoid military aircraft.
“Time and money, in terms of fuel, is going to be the bottom line there,” she said.
Commercial flights will probably see a 1- or 2-minute increase in flight schedules because of the redirection, Cook said.
All the comments made at the public hearings will be included in the final draft of the environmental impact statement, which will be finalized in September.
A final decision will be announced in October.