F-16 scare prompts scrutiny

April 9, 2008

F-16 scare prompts scrutiny

By AOPA ePublishing staff

When Patrick McCall got an urgent collision avoidance warning from the TCAS in his Pilatus PC-12, he took evasive action—turning, diving, and then climbing to avoid the traffic that seemed to be chasing him across the sky. When he finally saw the traffic, it was an Air Force F-16 flying in close formation with his aircraft.

Moments later, Scott Lamoree, flying a Beechcraft Premier jet, had an eerily similar experience. In letters to the FAA and the Air Force, both GA pilots said they thought their lives were in extreme danger.

Now the Air Force and the FAA have promised full investigations into the March 21 incidents that occurred in a military operations area (MOA) near Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. And AOPA is working with both groups to ensure that general aviation and military aircraft can safely share the skies.

“We have been in frequent contact with both the FAA and the military in regard to these incidents, and they are being taken very seriously at the highest levels,” said Pete Lehmann, AOPA manager of air traffic services. “Everyone involved agrees that we must work together to find ways to safely share airspace and prevent similar incidents in the future.”

AOPA plans to closely follow both investigations and review their conclusions.

Under federal aviation regulations, “No person may operate an aircraft in formation flight except by arrangement with the pilot in command of each aircraft in formation.” Although military pilots are not bound by this rule, they are required to abide by similar guidance unless on a sanctioned intercept mission.

The MOA was active at the time of the incidents, and although civilian aircraft are allowed to fly through active MOAs, AOPA encourages its members to avoid active special-use airspace (SUA) whenever possible.

AOPA also offers pilots a wide range of resources to help them safely navigate SUA. Start with the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s SUA Safety Quiz. Then learn more with the foundation’s online course Mission: Possible—Navigating Today’s Special Use Airspace. The course takes about 45 minutes to complete and covers all aspects of SUA from communications to lights-out operations.

To get the status of SUA along your planned route of flight, see our Web page, where airspace status is updated every six minutes.

April 9, 2008