ND airspace plan raises questions, concerns

January 10, 2012

A proposal to create new restricted airspace in North Dakota for training of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)raises more questions than it answers, undermines safety, and would set a dangerous precedent in creating additional restricted airspace for use solely by UAS, AOPA said, urging members to comment on the proposal by Feb. 12.

On Nov. 28, the FAA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would create restricted airspace for training UASs within and beyond the boundaries of the existing Devil’s Lake Military Operations Area. The NPRM said the restricted areas were needed to permit “realistic training” in modern tactics.

“In order to fully exploit the capabilities of today’s UAS aircraft and provide the essential training that replicates the conditions that are encountered during wartime deployments today, it is necessary to expand the restricted airspace around Camp Grafton Range,” it said.

The UASs would be launched from the Grand Forks, N.D., Air Force Base. Recovery operations would also be staged there.

AOPA pointed out that the proposal does nothing to explain how the UASs would be safely flown to and from the training areas from Grand Forks, and how pilots in the area would be informed of those transient operations. AOPA also is concerned with the proposal’s potential to set a precedent by creating restricted airspace specifically for the purpose of UAS operations.

“AOPA is sensitive to the need for training. However, the introduction of new special-use airspace within the National Airspace System for unmanned operations causes us great concern and raises a number of key questions,” said Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airspace and modernization. “The National Airspace System is a finite resource. Continuing the trend of segregating airspace for new types of aircraft would set a dangerous precedent and could quickly consume that resource.”

AOPA had requested that a previous comment deadline be extended to the Feb. 12 date that has now been granted, and will submit formal comments on the proposed rule. AOPA also will continue to advocate for the integration of UASs into the National Airspace System, while opposing precedent-setting efforts to set them apart through the creation of new restricted airspace. In October 2010, AOPA called for continued efforts to improve the technology of UASs so that they can safely co-exist with other aircraft in the nation’s airspace.

Members are encouraged to review the NPRM and submit comments on or before Feb. 12, to the FAA by email, referring to FAA Docket No. FAA-2011-0117 and Airspace Docket No. 09 (refer to AGL-31). Please also share your comments with AOPA.