Striving for co-existence with unmanned aircraft

March 2, 2010

The Grand Forks, N.D., Air Force Base has generated a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that would establish restricted airspace for flight by remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)). The problem is that this new airspace would prevent general aviation aircraft from safely arriving to, or departing from, airports underlying the restricted area.

Military Operations Areas (MOAs) underlying the restricted area have 300-foot-agl floors. Aircraft wanting to use the underlying affected airports would be forced to avoid them. This, in turn, would adversely affect the airport-based businesses, as well as the businesses located near those airports.

In 2008, AOPA first weighed in with concerns. The association expressed concern again about the draft EIS this year in March 1 comments. According to Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airspace and modernization, “AOPA urged the Air Force to collaborate with industry groups so that RPA activity could be safely integrated into the airspace instead of creating more restricted airspace designed to segregate military from civilian operations.”

This is the first time that restricted airspace has been proposed for RPV and UAV operations. Should it be established, it would set a precedent that would use restricted airspace to mitigate the “see and avoid” requirements of FAR Part 91.113. Typically, restricted airspace is established for hazardous activities.

Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne | AOPA Pilot Editor at Large, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.