While state aeronautic officials in Montana understand pilots’ concerns about losing the beacons, things are not as simple as they have been portrayed, according to Debbie Alke, administrator of Montana’s Aeronautics Division.
She notes that the $1,000 covers just the lease payments and utilities for each beacon.
“That’s doesn’t include equipment to maintain the beacons, plus staff time,” she said.
That’s why, as the beacons break down, the state has stopped maintaining them.
She realizes this is a controversial decision.
“Everybody thinks the beacons are cool — I think they are cool,” she said.
“But we work for 4,000 pilots in the state.”
She recalled that as the beacons began going dark in the last few years, there was little notice taken.
“We didn’t hear much from anybody,” she reported. “Less than a handful of people use the beacons as intended.”
Still, the state is committed to maintaining “at least” a string of three of the beacons, she said.
“We will never get rid of the MacDonald Pass, Spokane and Strawberry beacons,” she said.
And that makes Montana unique as it is the only state that still maintains any beacons.