RAPID CITY, S.D. — The plan to nearly triple the training airspace for the Air Force Base's Powder River Training Complex has received the support of the Pennington County Commission.
After voting to support the expansion, the commissioners said Tuesday they plan to send a letter in support to the Air Force to broaden the area where B-1 Bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base can train for combat.
"The more training they have, the better off they are going to be," Commissioner Ron Buskerud said on Tuesday.
First introduced in 2008, the expansion proposal is in the latter planning stages, said Ellsworth spokeswoman 2nd Lt. Rachel Allison.
The new area would stretch about 28,000 miles across sparsely populated areas in four states from near Faith in Meade County over to Hardin, Mont., and near Sundance, Wyo., north to Baker, Mont.
With pilots facing danger in places like Southwest Asia, Allison said they would benefit to have extra air space to train for more combat scenarios. The Air Force estimates both surface-to-air missiles and the B-1Bs have greater ranges than 20 years ago. With the current space, she said training is limited to only a few aircraft at a time.
The Federal Aviation Administration ultimately needs to approve the proposal.
If it moves forward as planned, Allison said the Air Force hopes to have pilots training by the end of the year. Regular training is planned from Monday to Friday about 240 days out of the year.
The question of how the expansion would affect local residents is still up in the air. The Butte County Commission expressed its concerns back in 2010.
Allison said the number of training flights was not expected to drastically increase and might be less noticeable when pilots are flying across a broader section of the sky. The Air Force is consulting with ranchers, Native American tribes and other affected parties to make sure trainings are as least intrusive as possible.
Since the Pennington County Commission voiced its support, Meade County Commission Assistant Jerry Derr said Wednesday their commissioners may bring up the matter at the April 9 meeting although they have yet to take a position on the matter.