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War game summit scheduled

North Dakota representatives will soon meet with U.S. defense officials and executives of Northwest Airlines to try to overcome objections to an initiative to turn the state's skies into a sprawling military training zone.

North Dakota representatives will soon meet with U.S. defense officials and executives of Northwest Airlines to try to overcome objections to an initiative to turn the state's skies into a sprawling military training zone.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Thursday he will convene a meeting July 15 that will include Gov. John Hoeven and the state's congressional delegation.

Northwest Airlines officials have said the proposal could force its jetliners to fly at lower altitudes, where fuel economy is much poorer.

The added cost for the 30 or so flights daily to the West Coast and Asia would be more than $1 million, Timothy Rainey, a senior vice president of Northwest Airlines, informed Hoeven in a letter sent Wednesday.

Also, Northwest has said the military airspace initiative could mean it would drop the 15 daily jet flights serving North Dakota, and replace them with turboprops.

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"That would be a very serious step backward for the state of North Dakota," Conrad said.

In the letter, Rainey wrote, "without specific procedures which guarantee normal flight profiles to and through this airspace, Northwest Airlines cannot support the concept."

Also, Conrad said the proposal has received "mixed reviews" within the Air Force. Some question whether the benefits would outweigh the costs.

A top Air Force official told Conrad the biggest cost would be the extensive environmental studies to determine the extent and severity of sonic booms produced by F-22 fighter jets, the aircraft best suited to a larger flight training zone.

"We've got to understand exactly what they mean by that," Conrad said.

Still, he added, the proposal has some backers in the Air Force, and the strong backing of Maj. Gen. Mike Haugen, commander of the North Dakota National Guard. It's imperative to explore the potential, Conrad said.

Haugen has said the military airspace initiative would help strengthen the missions of the air bases near Minot and Grand Forks, and would generate new economic activity, including personnel involved in coordinated, air-ground training operations.

"If there is some benefit to this, and hopefully there is, it would be a shame if it unraveled due to a lack of coordination," Conrad said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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