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Following Thune Backing, Air Force Finalizes Critical Training Airspace Expansion

Approval of PRTC increases national security while saving taxpayers money

January 16, 2015

Washington, D.C. — 

Following nearly nine years of collaboration between U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and the Air Force to expand the military training airspace over South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming, known as the Powder River Training Complex (PRTC), Thune today applauded the Air Force’s announcement that it finalized its Record of Decision (ROD) to approve the PRTC. Now that the Air Force has completed its portion of the process, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will complete its review before the training airspace can be utilized.

“It is rare to have an opportunity to increase national security while saving taxpayer dollars, but that’s precisely what this project does,” said Thune. “After nearly nine years working with the Air Force on this important expansion project, I’m pleased we’ve entered the final step to ensuring our Air Force pilots and personnel have the adequate airspace to perform the critical training they need in conditions that more closely resemble combat missions. I’m proud of the vital role Ellsworth continues to play in protecting and preserving America’s freedom at home and abroad and look forward to the FAA finalizing the PRTC expansion.”

The PRTC expansion will provide Air Force pilots and personnel with expanded airspace to perform the critical training they need in conditions that more closely resemble combat missions. The expansion will also allow for large force exercises where multiple aircraft and crews can train together simulating a combat environment without live fire exercises.

The new Powder River Training Complex will be divided into four quadrants, with each of these quadrants divided into low-, medium-, and high-altitude sections. With the exception of Large Force Exercises, which will be for only 10 days per year, only a few quadrants will be in use during the week, and only for a few hours each day. The airspace will continue to be open for civilian and commercial use when it is not being used for training exercises.

The PRTC expansion not only marks the largest expansion of Special Use Airspace in America’s history, but also represents an important cost-saving initiative. The expanded airspace will save Ellsworth Air Force Base up to $23 million per year and is the first time the FAA and Air Force have worked jointly on such an effort, setting a precedent for further cost-saving cooperation down the road and addressing stakeholder concerns up front.

Ellsworth Air Force Base has a $350 million impact on South Dakota’s economy and is the state’s second largest employer.