December 5, 2012
By Dan Namowitz
The FAA could reduce the risk of midair collisions by overhauling its practice of implementing military airspace actions on timetables unaligned with VFR chart update cycles, AOPA said.
Several examples of airspace actions taking effect from three to six months before VFR charts depicted the changes occurred in 2012, marking what AOPA criticized as an alarming trend. They include establishment of restricted areas R–5402 and R–5403A-F in North Dakota; the Meridian 2 East and West Military Operations Areas (MOAs) in Mississippi; and more recently, the Bulldog C and E MOAs in Georgia.
Failing to align airspace actions with charting cycles is more of a risk to VFR flights than to IFR operations because new IFR enroute charts are published every 56 days. Also, IFR flights are usually in contact with air traffic control.
“It is imperative that critical safety-of-flight information be available in the cockpit—even more so for the VFR operator who can legally share these airspace areas with high speed, low-altitude military aircraft,”wrote Heidi J. Williams, AOPA vice president of air traffic and modernization services in a Dec. 4 letter to the FAA’s director of mission support services in Washington, D.C.
Although updated information on special-use airspace is published in the Notices to Airmen Publication, many pilots remain unfamiliar with it—making notams unreliable as a means of conveying the information for VFR flights, she wrote.
AOPA requested that in the future, the FAA amend its own guidance on charting in recognition of the safety implications of airspace actions by aligning them with the appropriate VFR chart’s next issuance.
Williams urged the FAA and Defense Department to coordinate efforts to ensure that the “critical” problem is addressed.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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