Recent Press Releases

Thune Ushers Through Final Approval of Critical Airspace Expansion

Final FAA approval of PRTC increases national security while saving taxpayers money

March 24, 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 praised the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) announcement that it signed off on the Air Force’s proposed expansion of PRTC. This announcement marks the final step in the expansion process, making way for use of the expanded range by year’s end.

Click here to download video of Thune’s statement on the final FAA approval of PRTC.

“This has been a very long process, but I’m proud we’re finally completing this important expansion to provide our servicemen and women with the resources they need to be successful in a combat environment—all done while saving money. Talk about a winning combination for our country and for Ellsworth Air Force Base,” said Thune. “After nearly nine years working with the Air Force on this important expansion project, we’re not only going to see savings to the tune of $23 million a year at Ellsworth, but we’re also going to offer better training opportunities to our airmen—increasing readiness across the Air Force. 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 this expansion contributing to these efforts long into the future.”

“I would like to applaud Senator Thune on keeping his eye on the ball for the past nine years,” said Pat Burchill, Chairman of South Dakota Ellsworth Development Authority. “The Powder River Training Complex expansion wouldn’t have been possible without the relentless efforts of Senator Thune in the face of numerous obstacles. This is great news not only for Rapid City, but certainly also for South Dakota and our national defense.”

“During the 2005 BRAC, Senator Thune played a major role in the fight to remove Ellsworth Air Force Base from the closure list, and he continues to play a large part in improving our military readiness by successfully leading the effort to expand the Powder River Training Area,” said former chairman of the Ellsworth Task Force, Bruce Rampelberg. “The FAA’s announcement of the Powder River Training Area expansion is the result of Senator Thune’s tenacity over the past nine years. This expansion will reduce training costs and provide an area that can be structured to reflect the conditions our Air Force pilots may face in different parts of the world.”

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 expanded Powder River Training Complex will be divided into four quadrants spanning nearly 35,000 square miles, or four times the size of the current range. The quadrants will each be divided into low-, medium-, and high-altitude sections. With the exception of Large Force Exercises, which only comprise 10 days per year, only a few quadrants will be in use during the week, and only for a few hours each day.

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.