AOPA, EAA Say NOAA Overstepped Line in Taking Airspace Authority over Pacific Marine Sanctuaries

February 27, 2012

Contact: Benét Wilson
[email protected]

Frederick, MD – A new rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) usurps the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority to regulate airspace and could leave pilots unintentionally violating a restricted zone that does not appear on any current aeronautical charts. In response, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) have jointly sent a letter to the two federal agencies urging no enforcement action will be taken until proper coordination and education with the aviation community is completed.

NOAA’s new rule, which amends overflight regulations for the Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, Gulf of the Farallones, and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuaries off the coast of northern California, is not officially an airspace restriction according to NOAA and the FAA. However, AOPA and EAA maintain that NOAA established the overflight rule in violation of federal law, which states that the FAA is the sole U.S. airspace authority.

In their letter, AOPA and EAA maintain that the NOAA action “sets a hazardous precedent for other government agencies to follow” because it allows those agencies to establish flight rules without coordination with the FAA and its usual rulemaking procedures.

“The NOAA rule does not align with the existing charted sanctuary boundaries, nor does it mirror FAA’s guidance found in the FAA Advisory Circular 91-36D, Visual Flight Rules in the Vicinity of Sensitive Areas,” wrote AOPA and EAA in their letter, which was signed by Heidi Williams, AOPA vice president of air traffic services and modernization, and Sean Elliott, EAA’s vice president of advocacy and safety.

AOPA and EAA also note that NOAA has provided no resources to educate the aviation community about the change, saying instead that it will rely on the FAA to do so. NOAA had adequate time to coordinate its efforts with the FAA to ensure compliance by aviators. NOAA also did not share the boundaries of the sanctuary with AOPA and EAA when requested to do so. As written, the NOAA rule imposes the same operational restrictions and civil penalties as FAA-issued restrictions.

“”Pilots are now facing fines of up to $100,000 for violating a regulation where details of the boundaries have been withheld graphically until a later date when the agencies can collaborate,” the AOPA/EAA letter noted.

“AOPA and EAA remain committed to educating and ensuring members adopt ‘flying friendly’ procedures over any noise sensitive areas,” the letter continued. However, flight safety concerns must take priority and agencies without jurisdiction over flight safety – such as NOAA – should not impose restrictions that are not in alignment with the FAA, the agency tasked with flight safety and airspace regulation.

- AOPA -