Flights to increase at National Guard training site | VailDaily.com

Flights to increase at National Guard training site

Kristen Allen
Daily File PhotoPilots at the High Altitude Aviation Training Site, HAATS, went out on regular scheduled training flights Thursday. Training schedules have not changed after War started Wednesday.
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The National Guard plans to increase flights at a local aviation training area after an environmental analysis is released and reviewed this fall.

“They’re going to be stepping it up a quarter to half of what their existing times are,” said, the National Environmental Protection Act coordinator for the White River National Forest. Currently, the Colorado National Guard’s High Altitude Aviating Training Site logs between one and 3,000 flight hours annually. The projected increase will be about 3,000 additional hours.Located about 25 miles from the Eagle County airport on White River National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and private land, the site hosts military from all over the world. National Guard pilots, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps personnel and foreign allies train there.

“It’s a unique site,” said Timber Program Manager Jim Thinnes. “It is the only high altitude training site in the country.”Most of the training at the site is “touch and go landings,” when troops unload and take off again quickly.The site is ideal for high altitude training because it is “similar to mountainous terrain in areas of conflict like Afghanistan,” said Williams.

A 1987 agreement currently governs the responsibilites of the National Guard and federal land agencies at the site. The pending environmental study will replace the memorandum.Scoping for the environmental analysis, which the National Guard contracted out to a third party, ended in March after more than 30 days of inquiry. Potential impacts to wilderness were among the chief concerns of the study because the training area borders Holy Cross and Flattops wilderness areas.Within the next few months the preliminary environmental assessment, which will address these issues and offer alternatives to the National Guard’s proposted actions, will be ready for Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and public review.”It will be in the paper and we will take comments and augment the analysis,” said Williams. “There’s an appeal period before implementation – nothing will happen until analysis is complete.”