Training flights

Air Force should just drop plans for low-level flights over Southwest Colorado

The U.S Air Force said Wednesday that its plans to conduct low-level training flights over Southwest Colorado had been put on hold. Further assessment of the plan and its effects may be in order, and the thinking is the Air Force will revisit those questions in early 2013.

It would do better to let it drop. There are a number of reasons to object to the idea, no clear reason why it would be necessary, and every reason to wonder if those flights would be the best use for increasingly scarce federal money. Putting this “on hold” could be a diplomatic way to let it quietly die.

The original idea envisioned 700 flights per year from New Mexico’s Cannon Air Force base to Colorado. They would involve four-engined C-130 cargo planes and twin-engined CV-22 Osprey. The flights would be conducted as low as 200 feet above ground.

Objections to the plan have been overwrought. They are nonetheless legitimate.

Too many complaints have ignored the size of the area involved and failed to take into account the actual number of flights. There would be no constant stream of turbine-powered aircraft buzzing our neighborhoods. The Air Force has said there would be no more than three flights per weekday at dusk. At that rate, and considering the area involved, it would be possible to live around here for years without seeing or hearing one of those aircraft.

That said, those who did happen to be under one of those flights could be seriously affected. Southwest Colorado is home to the Wenimenuche Wilderness and a lot of other areas that, while not wilderness, are nonetheless important on many levels.

At 200 feet overhead, either type of aircraft would be loud. And at up to 250 mph its approach would be jarringly sudden. It is not just hikers or campers who might be disturbed. Hunters, anglers, shepherds, tourists and others could be affected, as well as the industries associated with them. What would be the effect on wildlife or livestock?

The military already has the access to huge amounts of airspace across the West, including areas where other aviation, and sometimes all other travel, is restricted or prohibited. Does it really need that much more?

The Afghan war was the stated reason for this training. But it is winding down. With that, the Air Force should redirect its resources to more critical areas and leave Southwest Colorado in peace.