AOPA seeks changes to large military airspace proposal in Alaska

June 28, 2012

AOPA is urging the Department of Defense to work with the aviation community to solve access and routing problems posed for general aviation by a revised special-use airspace plan for the Joint Alaska Pacific Range Complex (JPARC). Members may comment on the plan by July 9.

In formal comments filed June 26, on the plan’s draft environmental impact statement, AOPA called for solutions to numerous concerns pilots have raised about proposed new uses, boundaries, and altitudes of the complex of land, sea, and air training areas that support military exercises in Alaska—known as the JPARC plan.

The association opposed various parts of the plan and urged “utmost caution” in modifying other portions of the airspace, depended on by a $3.5 billion state aviation industry, and providing access that “enables many small communities to exist.”

“This range is already the largest military airspace complex in the country,” said Melissa McCaffrey, AOPA senior government analyst for air traffic. “Pilots should examine how the proposed changes would affect their ability to fly.”

AOPA objected to a proposed significant expansion and lowering of the floor of a military operations area (MOA) in an area “frequently used by general aviation pilots and air taxi operators” to conduct air tours, support businesses, and provide access to recreational areas. Expansion of the Fox MOA should be minimized to avoid raising the risk of midair collisions near population centers including Anchorage, Fairbanks, and the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough, AOPA said.

Also, any expansion should be accompanied by increased coverage by the special-use airspace information service, which provides pilots with information about MOA use. AOPA expressed concern about lack of assurances that funding for program infrastructure would remain sufficient.

Although existing T-routes and the instrument approaches provided by the Wide Area Augmentation System have increased IFR access, such gains could be “seriously degraded” by expanded MOAs, AOPA said, requesting in the formal comments that expansions be deferred until real-time IFR access through active MOAs can be effected.

Another concern was the proposal to establish restricted airspace over the Battle Area Complex, near Delta Junction where winds and variable weather and the need to access a mountain pass already limit pilots’ navigational options.

Proposed restricted corridors for the sole purpose of unmanned aerial vehicle operations—which the FAA has customarily rejected—“would clearly interfere with the safe and efficient access between Fairbanks, the Richardson Highway Corridor and the Alaska Range,” AOPA said. The association has been calling for development of a reliable sense-and-avoid capability for UAVs, rather than creation of segregated airspace for their development.

AOPA said the JPARC proposal provides an opportunity to study the Stony, Naknek, Susitna, and Galena MOAs “to determine if they are still required to meet modern training needs.” The results of the evaluation should be included in the environmental impact statement and made available for public comment.

Members may comment on the proposal online, by email, or by mail to ALCOM Public Affairs, 9480 Pease Avenue, Suite 120, JBER, AK 99506. 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.