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Air Force To Expand Powder River Training Complex

B-1 Bomber

The Federal Aviation Administration today approved expansion of the Powder River Training Complex, a huge new airspace for military bombers to practice. It covers portions of Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota.

Montana’s congressional delegation fought the expansion, saying it will disrupt agriculture and interfere with operations at rural airports.

South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune has been pushing for expansion for nine years, in an effort to protect his home state’s Elsworth Air Force Base from closing. He says the training area, now the largest in the country, will improve readiness of B-1 and B-52 flight crews there and at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

"Under Elsworth’s current airspace restrictions, aircraft only have the capacity to train one at a time, rather than train with multiple aircraft and crews, simulating a combat environment," according to Thune.

In a statement today Montana Senator Steve Daines says he’s “disappointed” with the FAA’s decision, because it doesn’t address his concerns about safety, emergency services and impact on economic activity.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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