Proposed special-use airspace opposed for unmanned ops

May 25, 2011

The FAA should reject a Department of Energy request to establish special-use airspace (SUA) over the Arctic Ocean north of Oliktok Point, Alaska, in which manned and unmanned aircraft would gather data for climate research, AOPA said in a response to the plan.

The proposal to establish a warning area is inconsistent with the FAA’s criteria for creating that type of airspace, and could be a step toward the creation of SUA solely for unmanned operations, AOPA said in formal comments on the proposal. AOPA has opposed the creation of segregated airspace for unmanned flight operations.

The FAA invited comments by June 3 on the proposal “to accommodate climate-related research on arctic clouds and their influence on the rate of sea ice retreat.” In addition to the unmanned flights, the research would include instrument manned aircraft flights, drops of parachute-retarded weather sensor packages, and moored balloon flights. None of those activities require any establishment of SUA.

The FAA is seeking 90 days, or 2,160 hours, a year of use for the proposed high and low strata of the warning area. Use of the airspace would be spread across all seasons, with periods of high winds avoided.

“AOPA is very concerned that implementation of this Warning Area is a step towards establishing new SUA solely for unmanned operations. The creation of new SUA for unmanned operations should not be considered as a mitigation for sense and avoid, and appears to open the door for the creation of additional SUA areas specifically for the purpose of unmanned activities,” wrote Tom Kramer, AOPA manager of air traffic services, in comments submitted May 26 .

He urged the FAA to deny the proposal “due to lack of demonstrated need.”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.