KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
There’s an old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.” But what if one of the neighbors has the ability to fly over your fence, though, when you don’t want to be disturbed?
That’s a situation the 58th Special Operations Wing needs to accommodate when conducting flight operations in airspace over Native American areas near Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico.
New Mexico includes 23 Indian tribes - 19 pueblos, three Apache tribes (the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, and the Mescalero Apache Tribe), and the Navajo Nation. Each tribe is a sovereign nation with its own government, life-ways, traditions, and culture.
“In the 58th SOW, we have a responsibility to be a good neighbor, especially while we conduct our training flights. In this case, being a good neighbor means respecting the times and places when and where religious and cultural events are happening,” said Col. Michael Curry, 58th SOW commander.
He explained how the 58th SOW deconflicts mission requirements while respecting the pueblos’ wishes.
“We’re fortunate to have access to multiple assets – such as alternative training areas and flight simulators – that we can use, as well as ground-training requirements we can schedule for those dates and times,” Curry said.
According to 58th SOW officials, pueblo governments, as well as several designated villages, have identified “avoid areas” on all 58th SOW navigation maps, as part of the wing’s “fly friendly” policy. These boundaries are in addition to altitude restrictions required by Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Air Force regulations. The constraints are always in effect, apply to all pueblos close to 58th SOW training areas, and may be temporarily expanded by the wing commander at the pueblo's request. The “avoid areas” are shared among other military organizations in the state, including Holloman and Cannon AFBs, as well as various U.S. Army and Marine aviation units.
The New Mexico Indian Affairs Department operates a website where people from state government agencies, military organizations, and tribal nations can collaborate about scheduling or avoiding low-level overflights, at https://www.iad.state.nm.us/resources/low-level-fly-overs/.