After spending three years and $1.5 million on environmental studies, the Colorado Air National Guard is once again promoting its plan to increase fighter-jet training over southeastern Colorado.
Because the Guard lost
some of its mock combat areas to Denver International Airport, the
"weekend warriors' say they need to make up the difference over
The proposal has always
raised hackles among many ranchers, hunters, environmentalists and
homeowners. They say the shriek and boom of low-flying jets spooks
livestock, hurts wildlife reproduction and destroys the area's calm
way of life (HCN, 3/8/93). But now the biggest obstacles before the
Guard may not be irate locals or threatened wildlife, but the
proliferation of commercial jet liners flocking to Colorado
Springs' bustling airport.
"No one could have
foreseen the phenomenal growth that has occurred at the Colorado
Springs Airport," says Paul McConnellogue, military liaison for the
Federal Aviation Administration's Air Traffic Control Center in
As the arbiter of the nation's skies,
the FAA has final say over military airspace changes. Under its
rules, military jets flying faster than 250 miles per hour at low
altitude must stay inside special military training areas and
military operation areas. Although the FAA is reserving judgment
until environmental studies are complete, McConnellogue says his
agency is concerned the Guard's proposal will conflict with future
growth at Colorado Springs Airport.
lost more than 100 miles of airspace when the much-delayed Denver
International Airport finally came on line in 1995. The proposed
training areas, however, are just 30 miles from the Springs'
"So in other words, what flies today may
not fly tomorrow," McConnellogue says, noting that when the
Colorado Guard originated its plan, the Springs airport was little
more than a shuttle-hop for Denver.
In 1992, when
the Guard was still formulating its plan, 714,325 passengers
boarded planes at Colorado Springs Airport, according to business
reports. By 1995, that number soared to 1.4 million. This year it
will top 2 million. And the number of planes touching tarmac daily
at Colorado Springs has increased from 90 in 1994 to 160. The
number of air carriers stationed there has jumped from six to
Now the airport is contemplating a new
concourse, expanding from 15 gates to a possible 27, says airport
spokesman George Dushan. As carriers consider commuter service to
ski destinations, airport staff hope to make Colorado Springs an
international point of entry.
"As we grow, we put
more pressure on the system," says George Sparks, an air traffic
manager at the FAA's Springs' tower.
activity in the proposed military flight zones could mean more
detours for commercial carriers, acknowledges Lt. Col. Buck
Buckingham, with the Buckley Air National Guard Base in Aurora,
Colo. He also concedes that the Guard had neither studied the issue
nor interviewed anyone at the Springs' airport. Still, he says the
effect would be minimal because military use of the airspace would
take up only a few hours a day.
But even small
delays, added up over time, could cost the airlines fuel, time and
money, airport sources say. For the FAA, which regulates and
promotes air travel, these potential losses are also a safety
concern. When the military areas are "hot," planes going to and
coming from the southwest will be steered through narrow corridors,
"Can it be done? Yes," he
says. "Is it the most efficient, safest way to do things? We think
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