FAA plan restricts vast area for UAVs

October 16, 2008

In a move that represents a significant policy change for the FAA, the agency is considering a proposal to create restricted airspace across a vast area of North Dakota specifically to segregate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as UAVs, from other aircraft operations.

“Based on our initial analysis, the proposal would have an enormous operational impact on general aviation traffic and is indicative of a policy that would put the needs of unmanned systems before those of traditional airspace users,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “Three out of four of AOPA’s members say they would rather see unmanned aircraft certified so they can safely share airspace instead of airspace restrictions.”

AOPA is asking the FAA to consider all alternatives, including using ground spotters, chase aircraft, and conducting operations in positive control airspace. The association is also urging the military to direct resources toward implementing technologies to mitigate see and avoid, rather than using those resources to segregate UAS from the rest of the National Airspace System.

The proposal marks the first time the FAA has considered creating new restricted airspace solely to segregate unmanned aircraft from the rest of the National Airspace System, and AOPA is concerned that it represents a major change in FAA policy, which had promised that the unmanned aircraft would not be allowed to impact other airspace users’ operations.

The U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard requested the new restrictions, but AOPA is asking the agencies to consider all other options and clarify the proposal before taking action.

The plan would create several new restricted areas in northern North Dakota extending from 6,000 feet msl to FL180, eliminating any possible use of four Victor airways controlled by Minneapolis Center. In addition, the plan does not make clear whether existing military operations areas (MOAs) would be activated at the same time as the restricted airspace, essentially closing the entire region to general aviation traffic.

Pilots who will be affected by the proposal are encouraged to file comments with the FAA. Written comments can be sent to HQ AMC/A7PI, 507 Symington Drive, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois 62225, and must be postmarked no later than Oct. 30.