HELENA – Montana officials have decided to decommission all but one of the state’s old airway beacons that pilots used to rely on to find their way at night.
More than 1,500 airway beacons used to dot the landscape nationwide but modern navigation equipment made them obsolete. Federal officials began decommissioning the beacons in the 1960s, the Helena Independent Record reported.
By 1972, Montana was the last state operating a beacon system. The Montana Department of Transportation still operates 17 beacons in the state’s western mountains but wants to save money.
The department convened a working group in May to study the issue and held three public meetings. Out of 125 people who submitted written comments, 82 supported decommissioning and 43 called for keeping at least some beacons operational.
Transportation officials on Thursday announced plans to decommission all but one of the beacons – the one on MacDonald Pass designated as a historic landmark. The department is looking for somebody to permanently adopt the last beacon by 2021.
The Montana Pilots Association had called for the department to keep as many beacons operational as possible.
“It’s a shame to even lose even one of them but financially it appears to be the proper course,” association President Pete Smith said Friday. “In general, the Montana Pilots Association felt the money was better spent elsewhere, but it is bittersweet.”
Kate Hampton, community preservation coordinator for the Montana Historical Society, and others want the full beacon system listed on the National Register of Historic Places. She’s not giving up.
“Certainly our interest in the beacons as an important historic resource doesn’t end with this decision, and perhaps down the line in the near future we can come up with a way,” Hampton said.
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