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Col. Paul Guemmer: Understanding the risks and benefits of encroachment

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE – Team Fairchild has a long history of partnership with the local community that can be traced back to Spokane’s initial donation of land to the government in 1942. Almost 70 years later, Fairchild has grown to be the largest employer in Eastern Washington with an economic impact of more than $500 million regionwide. This historic partnership helps us balance development activities around the base with our important worldwide mission.

During the U.S. Department of Defense’s expansion in the 1940s and 1950s, the majority of military installations were planned for remote areas because of land availability, security concerns, and to ensure safety zones on the approaches to all runways. Because of potential economic benefits, businesses and communities were drawn to these areas, which is why the base-community partnership takes on even greater importance.

To avoid conflicts that could harm either local business or the military mission, the DOD employs two processes. One is the Air Installation Compatibility Use Zone Study and the other is the Joint Land Use Study. Both processes result in technical information and recommendations that are then provided to local communities to assist with future development. The intent of these processes is to ensure that both the base and civilian communities can prosper.

The AICUZ study identifies areas on and off base that are most likely to be affected by unacceptable noise levels. It is based on sophisticated, computer-based models, Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, DOD and Air Force directives, as well as local land-use planning principles and practices. The AICUZ study also identifies aircraft landing and takeoff accident potential zones.

While flying is much safer today than it was many years ago, the accident potential zones are the areas of highest probability of a mishap. Because of that, we work closely with local officials to ensure that development in these areas is carefully considered in order to minimize the risk to people, property and operations.

Additionally, DOD works with state and local governments to help them incorporate the technical data from AICUZ into local planning programs. This program is called the Joint Land Use Study. JLUS can result in development controls like zoning, structural height restrictions, amendments to local building codes, real estate disclosure and land exchanges. JLUS recommendations include a justification and policy framework to support adoption and implementation of development measures designed to protect the community and safeguard the mission.

Fairchild’s airport traffic area is already restricted, about half the normal size, because of its close proximity to Spokane International Airport. Restrictions or modifications to our flight paths can limit our ability to train our aircrews to execute the important missions our nation asks of Team Fairchild. Thankfully, Fairchild has a great working relationship with the FAA and Spokane International Airport and that cooperation allows us to manage the airspace around the base to ensure effective training and safe flight operations.

Team Fairchild is proud of its friendship with the people of Spokane, Airway Heights and the surrounding communities. Through the AICUZ and JLUS processes, we are confident we can continue building on that strong partnership, protecting people and property while preserving the military mission and the viability of our base.

Col. Paul Guemmer is 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander.


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