Holloman Air Force Base officials say their array of flight training areas in southern New Mexico is outdated and that some need to be expanded, reshaped and relocated -- changes that would have jet fighters flying over sparsely populated rural areas not now used for that purpose.
Air Force officials scheduled public meetings this week in Carlsbad, Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces to receive public input on proposed changes to airspace "available for current and future pilot training."
The changes, which will be assessed in an upcoming environmental impact statement, are being considered as F-16s now based at Hill Air Force near Ogden, Utah, are being shifted to Holloman, located at Alamogordo, New Mexico, to make room for new F-35s at Hill.
Holloman conducts initial and refresher F-16 training for pilots who are newly stepping into the cockpits of the front-line fighters or returning to that duty.
A Holloman announcement of the project says its goals include maximizing training time, minimizing transit time for aircraft to fly to and from training areas and limiting impacts to civil aviation.
With the elimination of six options deemed unsatisfactory, two other options that would make substantial changes to Holloman's current training areas remain under consideration. A third alternative would leave things the way they are, but the Air Force says that wouldn't meet its needs.
One of the two alternatives still under consideration would expand an existing 2,125-square-mile (5500-sq. kilometer) flight area in the countryside south of Roswell in southeastern New Mexico to add 1,581 square miles (4095 sq. kilometers). That additional air space is generally east of Artesia and south of Carlsbad.
The other alternative under active consideration has several parts. It would redraw the boundaries of an existing 3,082-square-mile (7982-sq. kilometer) training area northwest of Truth or Consequences in southwestern New Mexico, with some current air space being subtracted while new air space elsewhere is added. The second option also includes creation of a new training area west of Holloman and White Sands Missile Range.
A formal notice of intent published in the Federal Register says Holloman's current flight areas date back more than three decades and were designed to "support different aircraft with significantly different mission profiles and performance characteristics" than the F-16s currently operating from the base.
The notice says the proposed changes would provide scheduling flexibility needed to conduct simultaneous training missions and that the Air Force could decide to implement one or both alternatives or neither, depending on the environmental impact statement's findings.
The training activity would include flights at both high- and low-altitudes and use of aerial flares and chaff — thin strips of metal — to confuse enemy target-seeking sensors such as radar.
The proposed changes would not affect several other training areas now used by Holloman, including part of southeastern Arizona north of San Simon.