October 31, 2001
Docket Management System U.S. Department of Transportation Room Plaza 401 400 Seventh St. SW. Washington, DC 20590-0001
RE: Docket No. FAA-2001-10191/ Petition for exemption
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), representing the interests of over 375,000 aviation enthusiasts and professionals nationwide, respectfully submits the following comments to the cited petition for exemption. If granted, this action will provide relief to Title 14 CFR Part 91.209(a)(1) and (b), allowing the United States Air Force to conduct night-vision goggle "lights-out" training in the Alaskan military operating areas (MOAs) and selected MOAs within the lower 48 contiguous United States and Puerto Rico. Although AOPA recognizes the military's need to train in an environment that closely replicates actual combat conditions, steps must be taken by both the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure that the resulting impact to the general aviation community is mitigated and an equivalent level of safety is achieved.
The granting of this petition would significantly impact how the pilots of non-participating aircraft exercise their "see-and-avoid" responsibilities mandated by Title 14 CFR Part 91.113 (b), which states in part:
"...When weather conditions permit, regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft...."
This regulation makes no distinction between civil and military pilots, and is mandated for all airspace users. Supporting the see-and-avoid principal is the regulation from which the Air Force seeks exemption. Title 14 CFR Part 91.209 requires the use of aircraft position and anti-collision lighting systems between sunset and sunrise. By doing so, aircraft can be more easily seen, resulting in an increased level of safety.
The absence of this operational safeguard would establish a dangerous precedent by requiring the pilots of non-participating aircraft to abdicate their responsibility in the see-and-avoid dynamic. Non-participating pilots would be forced to rely completely on the actions of another aircraft pilot, one with whom they will have no contact (visual or otherwise). Although USAF pilots are among the best-trained aviators in the world, there is an inherent danger in having dissimilar aircraft operating under the prescribed conditions without certain safeguards being in place. In short, GA pilots must be given the tools necessary to fly safely in such an environment.
To this end, AOPA would like the following addressed:
AOPA is deeply concerned with the precedent that would be established through the granting of this petition for exemption. However, if it is decided this proposal needs go forward for reasons of national security, safeguards must be established to mitigate the impact to those with whom the military shares the national airspace system.
Andrew V. Cebula Senior Vice President, Government and Technical Affairs Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.