We’ve heard our Montana congressional delegation tell reporters and defense officials many times that Montana has wide-open spaces, uncluttered air space, clear flying weather, and low population when they were trying to attract new flying missions to Montana, especially flying missions for Malmstrom AFB.
Malmstrom AFB has a nice long runway (11,500 ft) that has not been used in over 10 years. They have several nice hangars and plenty of flight line. As the years have gone by, the runway has deteriorated some, but not to the extent that would prevent the federal government or a private aerospace company from sinking a few million dollars into the runway to make it useable.
I don’t see that ever happening now.
Recently the Air Force has made plans to expand their training area called the, “Powder River Training Complex” for Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota to include part of southeastern Montana. All or part of Big Horn, Carter, Custer, Fallon, Powder River, Rosebud, Treasure and Yellowstone counties and the Crow Reservation and the Northern Cheyenne Reservation would be in the expanded training area. The planes would not fly over Billings.
U.S. Senator John Thune, R-SD, proposed the idea of expanding the training area back in 2006. Thune, unlike Montana’s two Senators, actually works hard to keep his military base viable. This expansion would help the Air Force expand their training and readiness. Thune understands this. It appears the Montana delegation does not.
Montana’s three member congressional delegation are against the expansion. They are saying NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) so, unfortunately, it does not look like Montana’s skies are open for business or defense training any more.
Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester issue a press release telling the aerospace world that they reject the proposal. The headline on their press release said it all: “Senators call on Air Force to reject proposal to expand air space into Southeastern Montana.” While I did not see a press release from Congressman Denny Rehberg, the Associated Press reported that, “Mont. delegation opposes expanded bomber training” and “Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg said he also thinks the concerns of agricultural producers and rural hospitals should be addressed.”
While Malmstrom AFB’s runway and the Montana National Guard’s home at the Great Falls International Airport may seem a long way from Southeastern Montana, (just a few minutes in a jet) the action by our congressional delegation probably harmed any future plans the Air Force or other aerospace companies might have that uses Montana’s skies (or facilities) for defense or business.
When I hear a military bomber or a jet flying over, I think of one thing: Freedom. Due to the lack of military experience from our Montana Congressional delegation, it does not appear they think the same.