Air Force won’t fly low over Big Isle

Posted on: Saturday, April 26, 2008

Air Force won’t fly low over Big Isle

Advertiser Staff

The Air Force has dropped a plan to establish a low-altitude flight path over the Big Island as a training route for C-17 cargo transport planes, U.S. Rep. Mazie K. Hirono said yesterday.

The decision came after Big Island residents raised concerns about noise, pollution and safety, as well as possible effects on area livestock, Hirono said in a news release.

The Air Force said it wanted to fly as low as 300 feet over unpopulated areas of the Big Island, and at 2,000 feet over populated areas.

“I am pleased and impressed that the Air Force took the concerns of the community to heart, and acted so expeditiously to address this situation,” Hirono, D-Hawai’i, said. “They should be commended for their work on this matter.”

Hirono said the proposed training route would have taken C-17 jets over the communities of Honoka’a and Waimea, as well as other populated areas.

Hirono said the decision came after Monday’s meeting of the Hawai’i County Council, where dozens of Big Island residents offered public testimony.

After evaluating the community input, Air Force commanders determined they will be able to satisfy their low-altitude training needs without using the proposed training route over the Big Island, Hirono said.

Hickam Air Force Base spokes-man Phil Breeze said the routing had not been finalized. Low-altitude terrain flying will continue during flights to Alaska, he said.

Col. Andy Hockman, the 15th Operations Group commander at Hickam Air Force Base, recently said, “Flying low and using mountains and ridgelines to keep us away from the threat is one of the tactics that we use in this (the C-17) aircraft, and we practice it everywhere except in Hawai’i.”

The flying corridor would have been four to seven miles wide and about 70 miles long, the Air Force said.

By year’s end, eight of the C-17 Globemaster transports will be based at Hickam. The $200 million jet is the U.S. military’s newest large-capacity transport, with the ability to carry 102 soldiers or three Stryker combat vehicles.

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