July 1, 2008
By Kathy Dondzila
Two general aviation pilots flying VFR through an active military operations area (MOA) recently experienced close encounters with F-16s in two separate incidents. Conflicts like these encourage us to review the rules for flying in special use airspace.
Can GA aircraft fly through a hot MOA? Yes. ATC routinely directs IFR traffic through active MOAs if there is no obvious conflict. All VFR pilots on flight plans or with flight following are responsible to see and avoid conflicting traffic. However, since only seconds pass between seeing an approaching F-16 and a possible collision, there may not be enough time to steer clear.
To avoid potential conflicts, AOPA encourages VFR pilots to divert around hot airspace whenever practical. Before departure, call flight service and ask for the special use airspace (SUA) status along your route. Although sectional charts show the hours of SUA activity, the times can and do change. Also check AOPA’s online SUA database, which is updated every six minutes with status and activity times. While en route, contact flight service 100 miles from the MOA for current information.
Flying at night through a hot MOA presents an even greater risk to VFR flights. Although FAR 91.209 requires aircraft position lights be on from sunset to sunrise, the U.S. military was granted an exemption to this rule a few years ago for the purpose of conducting lights-out training exercises using night vision goggles (NVGs). GA pilots can’t see the unlit military aircraft, making seeing and avoiding impossible—although military pilots wearing the goggles can see aircraft and terrain quite clearly.
At the time the exemption was under consideration, AOPA worked with the FAA and the Air Force to implement several safeguards that restrict NVG operations to designated MOAs, and require ATC notification at their start and finish. Military pilots are required to watch for nonparticipating aircraft entering hot airspace, and if there’s a conflict, the NVG training must be modified, suspended, or terminated. The military must hold annual briefings for local users.
The Air Force and Department of Defense partnered with the AOPA Air Safety Foundation to produce the online course, Mission: Possible—Navigating Today’s Special Use Airspace, and a Safety Advisor, Lights-Out—A New Collision Avoidance Challenge, both on AOPA’s Web site. On some military Web sites, their Midair Collision Avoidance (MACA) program pages link to AOPA resources. With pilots better educated about MOA operations, and all parties adhering to procedures, GA and the military can safely share the sky. Questions? Call us at 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672).
Answers to frequently asked questions about your AOPA membership
Q: I’m an experienced pilot, so why would I need the AOPA Legal Services Plan?
A: You may be an excellent pilot, but have you ever had to handle the FAA? The FAA initiates thousands of enforcement actions annually. As a result, we’ve assisted many pilots who had never before run into any problems until a simple miscommunication or misunderstanding occurred. The Legal Services Plan provides valuable services you may need as a pilot, no matter how frequently you fly. For just $29 per year—less than $2.50 per month—it’s an affordable way to help protect your certificate and guarantee aviation legal assistance from a trained aviation attorney. To enroll, call 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672) or go online.
Q: Where can I buy an AOPA shirt or other merchandise with the AOPA logo?
A: You can order a wide variety of AOPA insignia products from Sporty’s Pilot Shop. They’ve got great-looking clothing, hats, and other useful merchandise such as mugs and ID wallets with the AOPA logo. And you can earn double points on your purchase when you use your AOPA WorldPoints Rewards card. Browse the AOPA Collection online or call 800-SPORTYS (776-7897) to request a catalog.
Q: How can I find out about job opportunities with AOPA?
A: Just visit our career opportunities page at our Web site to learn more about working for the largest and most influential aviation association in the world. AOPA is always looking for talented individuals who have a passion for their work and enjoy playing an important role on a high-performance team. Learn more about our association, employee benefits, and available positions online.
Member Services contact information:
Phone: 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672), 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Eastern time) Monday through Friday.
After hours: Renew your membership, reset your Web password, or enroll in Automatic Annual Renewal using our self-service touch-tone phone option.
Web: Update your personal information, renew your membership and much more by clicking on Manage My Membership on the Membership Services page.
Technical Communications Manager, Kathy Dondzila, joined AOPA in 1990 and is an instrument-rated private pilot.
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