The word is that Shaw Air Force Base's proposal to muscle in on Augusta Regional's and other nearby airports' air space is a long way from being approved. We're not reassured.
The very notion that such a plan is under consideration is profoundly troublesome. It would allow military aircraft to train at altitudes as low as 500 feet. Think of the racket that makes - and the danger it poses to communities on the ground.
Sharing airspace with the military actually means military control of the airspace, and that could devastate commercial, corporate and private air travel throughout our area - not to mention crushing economic development. Why not just drop bombs on the Augusta, Swainsboro, Waynesboro and Millen airports?
A spokesman for the air base, near Sumter, S.C., says the military is "more than willing to work with the civilian air space community. We want to make sure this is mutually beneficial. We understand their concerns ... ."
Ed Ratigan, aviation program manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation, isn't buying the sweet talk. His efforts to communicate with Shaw's brass have run into a stonewall. "We, at the state, are willing to talk to them, but they haven't been willing to talk to us," he says
Either out of ignorance or insensitivity, Shaw hasn't looked at the negative economic impact its plan would have on the region. Apparently they haven't looked at alternative plans either, says Ratigan.
He is concerned at the millions of dollars Swainsboro and Waynesboro have put into upgrading their airport facilities. Augusta Regional is spending $30 million on a new Bush Field terminal in hopes of expanding business and tourist air service. These investments could be for naught if the Federal Aviation Administration approves the Shaw plan.
Ken Warnock, chairman of Swainsboro's airport commission, says his community is already feeling the effect of the military initiative as the Air Force reroutes private planes to make room for its F-16 training missions. Noise problems also are worsening.
Mike Gunn, Augusta Regional Airport's air traffic manager, notes that the Shaw plan, as it currently stands, would inconvenience up to 13,000 general aviation and commercial pilots annually. In bad weather, he says, they wouldn't be able to use their instrument landing systems.
Shaw officials and the FAA need to get the message loud and clear that the military plan is totally unacceptable. There are several ways to do this. Local governing bodies and aviation commissions should go on record in official opposition; the Burke County Council and Waynesboro City Council have already done this. Other affected communities should follow suit. Business and civic organization should let the FAA know of their disapproval and everybody, on both sides of the river, should contact their congressional representatives. U.S. Senate and House members are in the best position to pressure the military to change their plans. There's plenty of space in South Carolina for low-flying pilots to train over the Atlantic ocean. They don't need to take over civilian air space.
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