In August. 27, 2014, file photo, a Massachusetts Air National Guard F-15C fighter aircraft sits near a hangar at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Mass
(AP Photo/Steven Senne)
PORTLAND, Maine – A proposal to lower the flight ceiling for noisy jets has dragged on for so long that residents can be forgiven if they out of their minds.
But the Air National Guard is forward with the plan with a goal of submitting a revised version of the environmental impact report this year for the Federal Aviation Administration to consider. Public hearings on the proposal could occur as soon as this summer or fall.
Jet fighter pilots who say that the airspace is needed for low-level of the training have been waiting 14 years for a final answer.
“It is very frustrating for the Guard. We want and we need to make this happen,” said Jamie Flanders, the airspace manager for the Air National Guard.
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The critics among the 78,000 people who live in the sparsely populated training area — about 20 people per square kilometre, the plan spiked. They say that the sound of the jets and frighten people and animals, ultimately hurting the tourism and the value of real estate.
“It is terrible. You would dive for the bushes for cover as they went over,” said Toni Seger, a vocal critic in North Lovell. “They’re supposed to be surprising the enemy. I am not the enemy. I live here. I pay taxes here.”
The proposal is led by the Massachusetts National Guard, whose fighters were first on the scene in New York after the attacks of 9/11.
The 104th Fighter Wing, proposes the airspace is needed for training to defend the Northeast. The proposal would essentially drop from the flight deck on the 4,000 square metres of Condor Military Operations Area, which is located in the west of Maine and the northern tip of New Hampshire.
In the proposal, twin-engine F-15 Eagles from the Massachusetts and single-engine F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Vermont would be allowed to fly as low as 500 feet in those areas.
The proposal would spread low-level flights over a larger area instead of concentrating the aircraft and noise along the existing, narrow corridors within Condor, Flanders said.
Stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft, which is still noisier than the F-15’s and F-16’s, will the stay of more than 7,000 feet if they are in service with the Vermont National Guard in 2020, he said.
The Air National Guard final environmental impact statement two years ago, but it was rejected because the air force does not feel that it adequately addressed why alternatives, including airspace over New Hampshire, and New York would not suffice.
After the revised statement is filed, the public would have 30 days to comment. Would the proposal to the FAA that its own public hearings. It could take the FAA a year or more to make a final decision.
The current effort has faced governor’s objections, first, of the Democratic Gov. John Baldacci in 2009, and then of the Republican Gov. Paul LePage two years later.
Flanders said the Air National Guard has gone out of its way to minimize the impact by reaching out to the involved parties, such as the Penobscot Indian Nation, who are landowners with thousands of acres in the area, and also by limiting flights at certain times, and the avoidance of sensitive areas as a whole.
“We want to ensure that we impact as few people as possible, if there is an effect at all,” he said.
Seger said the problem is that the military officials mention that people living in the area.
“The mentality is that People don’t really live here.” When the pilots look down, they see a forest of trees,” she said.