Concerns Addressed Over Massive Powder River Training Complex Special Use Airspace

by Kyle Lewis
Regional Manager / Government Affairs & Airport Advocacy / Great Lakes
Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2018 issue

On April 5th, 2018, I along with staff from Ellsworth Air Force Base, hosted the second edition of the “Powder River Council.” The meeting brought in stakeholders from a four-state area to include South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. FAA representation included staff from the Salt Lake ARTCC, Minneapolis Airports District Office, and the Rapid City Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). Local operators and airport representatives were also in attendance to voice their concerns on usage and operation of the massive Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) Special Use Airspace (SUA).

This was a unique opportunity for AOPA and NBAA to present the results of a survey conducted earlier in 2018. The survey quantified the economic impact and touched on perceived safety concerns while operating within the PRTC. Here are some highlights of that survey:

• Pilots and operators who use the airspace less frequently encounter fewer specific issues while operating within the SUA.

• 3 out of 4 pilots and operators, who use the airspace more frequently, do have specific issues, like inefficient ATC routings, lack of information about activation status of the SUA which are detrimental to flight planning efforts, and being vectored into or near adverse weather when operating on the narrow flight corridors within the SUA.

• One frequent operator claimed that his operating costs increased by nearly $20,000 due to longer flight routes around the SUA.

• One respondent reported that he will fly through the SUA regardless of activation status and make the military watch out for him, as he does not have the time or money to waste on an inefficient route. (AOPA does not recommend or condone this type of attitude. There is information available that will aid in flight planning and enroute operations. This is a safety concern and exactly what we are trying to resolve and avoid.)

The survey revealed opportunities for the military, ATC, and GA pilots to make improvements that will help resolve the specific reported issues mentioned above. One main talking point that speaks to the resolution of such issues would be the investment in ATC radar and communication infrastructure upgrades across the PRTC. Access to low-level communications is key to resolving some of the issues with low-level operators in the SUA. Another idea that everyone in the room coalesced behind was an “instant notification” alert that could be delivered via an app or text alert on your smartphone. This is a popular idea among law enforcement or public safety departments that could be implemented into a wide variety of aviation alerts. There are some concerns to be addressed, where the information is coming from and who it would be going to, for example. Obviously, some approved method from the FAA would need to be implemented.

AOPA and NBAA are committed to exploring the options put on the table. Jon Becker, South Dakota Department of Aviation Director, took it upon himself to work in step with the four other states affected by the PRTC to look at avenues for resolving the issues. Kyle Wanner of the North Dakota Aviation Department and Tim Conway of the Montana Aviation Division were also present and agreed that the four states can sit down and look at the issues together. It was also made very clear that GA stands behind the military and supports their training exercises within the PRTC.

While in South Dakota, I had the opportunity to visit several airports and the AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers based at Rapid City (Jerry Densmore), Spearfish/Black Hills Airport (Ray Jilek), and Wilder (Dwayne LaFave). I also met and spoke with several airport managers and members of the South Dakota Pilots Association while attending the State Airports Conference in Deadwood. The conference was well attended and was composed of pertinent topics. The discussions and presentations were a reminder that GA is alive and well in South Dakota.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the conference organizers for inviting me to speak on AOPA’s behalf providing insight on our 2018 initiatives and legislative work.

Just a quick note… If you have ever wanted to visit the area, I highly recommend it. As this was my first trip to South Dakota, I was impressed by the hospitality and gorgeous landscape of the Black Hills.

On the legislative front, there has been some movement on bills that I will recap briefly here:

• Minnesota HF 1933 (Airport Zoning) has been heard in the full House three times and could be taken up for a vote or processed along in the larger omnibus bill. A favorable outlook is expected, and I am currently exploring what can be done to ensure passage in the Senate. At this time, there are only around 30 legislative days left.

• In Ohio, the Speaker of the House, Cliff Rosenberger, is expected to resign over ethics violations. This has ignited a contentious battle for the next speaker, resulting in a slowdown of legislative actions. One piece of legislation I have been monitoring is Ohio House Bill 256, which would create two new airport hubs in Ohio and eventually close the five other commercial service airports in the state. AOPA opposed this legislation for numerous legitimate reasons, not to mention the cost of planning and construction of two unnecessary airports. The bill is being held in committee with no vote expected.

As always, please fly safe and do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns. I am here to serve you! Email

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