Flight restrictions seen from possible sanctuary expansion

August 15, 2012

A federal agency has opened a study of expanding the boundaries of California’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, with possible ramifications for overflights of the area. The study follows the implementation last February of a precedent-setting regulation that gave the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration power to restrict overflights, including a presumption that pilots flying below 1,000 feet msl in the vicinity of the sanctuary have disturbed wildlife. Pilots would be exposed to sanctions including fines.

The NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) said in a Federal Register notice Aug. 7 that it intends “to evaluate the opportunity and effects of expanding the sanctuary’s boundary.”

ONMS planned to hold a series of scoping meetings and prepare an environmental impact statement on the boundary review. The notice did not specify locations of possible boundary changes, nor did it state the expected impact on flight operations. However the notice said the agency was considering adding an area formerly considered “incompatible with sanctuary regulations” in the urban waters around San Francisco, and amounting to 77 square miles.

The sanctuary encompasses 276 miles of shoreline and 6,094 square miles of ocean, and extends an average 30 miles from shore, said the notice.

AOPA is evaluating the notice of intent, and has requested that NOAA provide more details about the extent of the potential expansion, such as the location of changed boundaries, to determine the impact on general aviation flights, before the association submits formal comments by the Oct.10 deadline.

The scoping meetings will take place as follows:

On Aug. 16, from 4 to 6p.m. at the Louden Nelson Community Center, 301 Center St., Santa Cruz, Calif., 95060.

On Aug. 23, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Headquarters, Upper Fort Mason, Bldg.201, San Francisco, Calif. 94123.

On Sept. 12 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Pacifica Community Center, The Card Room, 540 Crespi Drive Pacifica, Calif., 94044.

AOPA urges members to review the proposal and submit comments, citing docket number NOAA–NOS–2012–0153. Please share your comments with AOPA.

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.