Safer airspace but more noise? U.S. Air Force considers changing jet flight patterns in Alaska

An Air Force F-22 takes off from its home base at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on May 2 during the Northern Edge training exercise. On the tarmac are F-16s and F-15s. (Loren Holmes/Alaska Dispatch News archive)
The U.S. Air Force is considering changes in fighter jet runway use at Anchorage’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson that officials say could lead to more efficiency and safety in the airspace but expose several hundred residents in the nearby neighborhood of Mountain View to more jet noise.

The Air Force has set a public hearing and open house for Wednesday night at Clark Middle School, 150 Bragaw St. Military officials will hold a presentation on the proposal and record testimony from residents.

In a dense 38-page draft environmental impact statement, military officials identify a leading plan to change where the fighter jets, F-22 Raptors, take off and land at the base. The proposal, known as “Alternative A,” would largely direct departures to JBER’s south-north runway, with jets taking off to the north, and arrivals to its west-east runway, which officials say will allow for more flexible use of the runway and better access to training airspace.

Right now, because of various restrictions, F-22 pilots take off to the north roughly one-third of the time, though that’s the runway that maximizes training time for pilots, the document says.

Disproportionate effects

The plan would “increase the off-base noise and have disproportionate effects on minority and low-income populations in the community of Mountain View.” Officials estimate 424 people would be affected, including children and the elderly, the document says. Noise would rise above 65 decibels, the document says. That’s between the volume of a normal conversation and that of a vacuum.

Noise would rise for children at Mountain View Elementary School, though the document notes that school bonds have funded renovations to improve sound insulation at the school.

The current number of people who live on JBER and are exposed to the higher-decibel noise would decline under the plan, from more than 1,400 to 824.

Other plans identified by military officials would reduce noise but require the Air Force to build a 2,500-foot extension to the north end of its runway. Construction would affect about 557 acres of land, including 28 acres of wetlands.

“Two plant species considered rare in Alaska are in proximity to, and could be affected by, a runway expansion,” officials wrote in the document.

Less training time

JBER officials weren’t available for comment Tuesday. In the draft document, officials say restrictions on runway use lead to less training time in the airspace for two Air Force fighter squadrons, the 90th and the 525th.

The proposal would lead to more F-22 departures on JBER’s north-south runway, and cut down on conflicts in arrivals and departures as well as “potentially unsafe” interactions with civil and military operations, the document says.

Wednesday’s hearing is set to start at 6 p.m. with an open house, and a formal hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. Hard copies and CD copies of the environmental impact statement are available at the Mountain View, Muldoon, Loussac and Chugiak-Eagle River branch libraries, as well as the JBER library on base.

Digital copies can also be downloaded at

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Do Russian bomber patrols in the Arctic threaten Canada’s security and sovereignty?, Radio Canada International

Finland: Russia, Finland leaders talk defence, environment and possible US sanctions, Yle News

Norway: Russian military aircraft spotted outside Norway during Arctic Challenge break, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: What Russia’s new Navy Strategy says about the Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish PM questions Chinese warships in Baltic Sea, Radio Sweden

United States: Federal agency to investigate ‘avoidable’ plane crashes in Alaska, Alaska Dispatch News

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