CPA lays out rules for military exercises at all CNMI airports

The Commonwealth Ports Authority has for the first time set in place an implementation plan for all proposed military exercises at CPA airports. The plan details “conditions that have to be met” during military exercises on CPA property, according to CPA’s executive director Maryann Lizama yesterday.

Lizama described the plan as “taking care” of facilities while keeping in line with their work with the military. The plan details in depth procedures and requirements to be signed off and met by any military branch wishing to conduct operations on CPA grounds.

What measures can CPA take if conditions for an exercise are not met? Bottom line, Lizama said, “the exercise does not occur.”

“We want to be able to accommodate the military and their exercises and at the same time protect the interest of our traveling public as well as the facility,” she said.

Forager Fury 1, 2, and 3, Geiger Fury, and Cope North exercises have used CPA property in past years, according to Lizama. The plan would cover the whole scope of what these exercises do, she said.

But she clarified that the proposed military buildup on Tinian is an “entirely different ball game.” This plan would be “specific to exercises,” she said.

“After action” reports have detailed in the past minor damage to CPA property, she said. But no structural damage has been reported and they have not come to the point where they have had to stop an exercise from occurring, she said.

She believes both the CPA and the military have to “meet in the middle” to satisfy both their interests.

The plan was approved by the CPA board last week as an official CPA regulation. No formal plan had existed prior to this, according to legal counsel Robert Torres in the board meeting. He said the plan “came out of necessity and frustration” but ultimately was put together with the Federal Aviation Administration and reviewed by the Joint Region Marianas, and governs the military use of a CPA facility.

Torres said that in a past exercise, a “disturbing example” left by the military was fuel bladder set near the Tinian Westfield Airport. He said this not only concerned CPA but the Division of Environmental Quality and the FAA Air Traffic Control as well.

“This is not in the jungles of Northfield, this is our airport… We had to bring in some controls and this is where we are, and now they operate on this paradigm,” he said.

Lizama confirmed yesterday that the fuel bladder was placed in close proximity to the terminal and was highlighted in an “after action” report. She said the military was told that they had to “put that fuel bladder farther away” when the next exercise happens.

“The document itself was a work in progress throughout all the exercises,” she said, describing it as a “learning process” for both sides.

The four overarching principles in the plan, according to Torres, are to address issues of safety, liability, scope of the operations, and address the issues of balancing civilian use of aircraft/airports.

Among other requirements, the plan requires standard operating procedures that detail the type, duration, description of movement, and location of proposed military exercises, to be submitted no later than 60 days before the actual training.

The FAA would review this standard operating procedure and, when approved, CPA would require ground operation, implementation, and acknowledgement forms to be signed off by the military within a seven-day deadline.

The plan does not apply to foreign military or commercial aircraft contracted by the U.S. Department of Defense. This would allow CPA to charge fees on foreign or commercial units participating or aiding in U.S. military exercises.

The plan also requires also a “Military Operation Facilities Impact Report.” The report would describe the number, weight and type of military or civilian-contracted take-off and landings during military exercises.

This would enable CPA to monitor the level of use of its facilities, and would allow CPA to seek reimbursement—as authorized by the FAA—once certain usage levels have been met.

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Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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