Public meeting Tuesday to discuss low-flight training proposal

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FARMINGTON – The Air National Guard has announced that it will be holding a public meeting Tuesday to discuss a proposal to lower the minimum allowable altitude for training missions in some parts of Franklin County.

The event, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Dec 2 at the University of Maine at Farmington’s Thomas Auditorium, is the fifth public meeting to be held on the plan, which would lower the “flight floor” for training missions from 7,000 feet to as low as 500 feet above sea level in some places.

The Air National Guard seeks to adjust the CONDOR Memorandum of Agreement. That agreement sets aside part of the state, designated Condor 1 and Condor 2, for training flights. The majority of the county falls within Condor 1, with a small southern portion lying beneath Condor 2. Currently, pilots must remain above 7,000 feet and within 10-mile wide “flight corridors” while conducting training operations.

The changes to the CONDOR MOA would not impact towns in Franklin County, or certain other places of interest. These areas would have a no-fly “bubble” placed around them, in which operations would not be conducted. Additionally, the Air National Guard has said that people can call a hotline and create a similar arrangement around their private residence.

The proposal to alter these restrictions was made in 2007. The change was designed to let pilots get “low altitude intercept training,” according to Air National Guard representatives, who have said that their personnel cannot utilize combat maneuvers against one another with the current restrictions. In addition, they say, the hills and mountains in the county allow pilots to experience rising and falling terrain as they train.

However, the plan has not been without controversy. Some residents of Franklin County have said that low-flying military aircraft will adversely affect the peace and quiet of areas like Rangeley and Carrabassett Valley. At a similar public meeting held on July 11, 2007, in Farmington, 150 residents were in attendance. No one spoke in favor of the plan.

The governor’s office has also gotten involved. The governor, echoing concerns raised in March 2007 by the state’s Department of Transportation, wrote in a letter to the Air National Guard that alternatives to Condor 1 and Condor 2 were not given a balanced review before being declared inferior training areas. These alternates included the Yankee Military Operation Area, which encompasses part of New Hampshire and a smaller slice of western Maine, and the airspace around Fort Drum, in upstate New York.

The governor has not come out for or against the plan, but has requested more research. The Air National Guard, for its part, said in a prepared statement released today that it has worked to address concerns with its proposal.

“The Air National Guard has previously held four public meetings regarding this proposal, and has worked with federal and state agencies over the past six months to address every issue identified in the previous public meetings,” the statement reads.

The Dec. 2 public meeting will the final one held before the Air National Guard submits a new, updated environmental assessment on the impacts of changing the CONDOR MOA. The Federal Aviation Administration will review that assessment prior to issuing a decision on whether the changes should be implemented or not.

For information or to make comments, please contact Harry Knudsen, National Guard Bureau, (301) 836-8143.

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