BILLINGS, Mont. — A Montana congressman said Monday that he wants the U.S. Air Force to scale back a proposal that would expand a bomber training site over parts of four states.
Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines asked the Air Force to remove from its plans a vast swath of airspace above southeast Montana, northwest South Dakota and southwest North Dakota.
Daines’ office said the proposed enlargement of the Powder River Training Complex threatens to disrupt medical flights and monitoring flights by the oil and gas industry.
The Air Force plan also includes airspace above Wyoming. It would more than triple the area that can be used in training exercises for B-1 and B-52 bombers based in the Dakotas.
A final environmental study on the proposal is pending.
If the Air Force won’t remove the disputed area, Daines asked officials to raise the minimum altitude for aircraft and provide radar capabilities to help prevent accidents.
Daines requested the changes in a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III.
A spokesman for James said Monday that her office had not yet received the letter.
Montana U.S. Senators John Walsh and Jon Tester have opposed the expansion and criticized federal officials for not providing enough opportunities for public comment on the matter.
The Air Force has said the expanded area would help pilots practice bomb runs, defensive maneuvers and evasive actions.
The Powder River Training Complex now spans about 8,300 square miles. That space can accommodate only one or two bombers at a time. As a result, some B-1s from South Dakota’s Ellsworth Air Force Base and B-52’s from North Dakota’s Minot Air Force Base have flown to Utah or Nevada for their combat exercises.