A proposal to conduct military fighter jet pilot training at as low as 100 feet above ground level over parts of the Pennsylvania Wilds is again up for public comment.
The Maryland Air National Guard currently operates at 8,000 feet above sea level and higher over all or part of Cameron, Clinton, Elk, McKean, Potter, and Tioga Counties in north-central Pennsylvania, as well as a small area of southern New York.
The proposed change is meant to “provide low-altitude airspace to accurately train and prepare for current and future conflicts in an integrated, year-round, and realistic training environment,” according to the guard’s website. It will allow “pilots the ability to train so they protect American and ally troops on the ground as well as perform search and rescue missions.”
The low-altitude fighter jet training would occur on about 170 days of the year, with two one-hour “sorties,” or aircraft deployments, occurring each of those days. The ANG materials say aircraft would spend two to three minutes below 500 feet “per activation.” The aircraft would “stay under supersonic speeds,” and only two to four fighter jets would be flying at a time.
The ANG acknowledges that this will result in an increase in “noise experienced on the ground.”
The proposal, first pitched in 2021, has long caused concerns among residents, business owners, elected officials, and others who worry about noise pollution, disruption to livestock, and negative effects on the tourism and recreation economy of the region.
It was up for public review initially at the end of 2021. According to the Maryland ANG materials, 430 comments were made by community members, elected officials, special interest groups, and agencies.
As a result, “substantial changes” were made to the environmental assessment and the document has been re-released. Public comment is open until May 17.
According to the Maryland ANG, the low-altitude flights would have “no significant effects” on noise, biological resources, land use, socioeconomics, safety, cultural resources, environmental justice, and airspace management.
But concerns remain.
“The flights into this area will forever change the quiet and peaceful areas of the PA Wilds and the Allegheny National Forest,” Linda Devlin, executive director of the Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau, told The Bradford Era. “People come here to visit in great numbers to get away from the noise of highly populated areas. These flights would have a negative impact on the tourism status of our destination, causing economic hardship to our small towns and businesses.”
The draft final environmental assessment is on view at the Bradford, Coudersport, Green, and Galeton public libraries, and online. Public comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Sarah Rafacz, State College Editor