Incursions put focus on special-use airspace awareness

May 17, 2012

What kind of special-use airspace (SUA) exists where you fly?

Do you make it a point to check notices to airmen on whether the airspace is active? Do you have a clear idea of its boundaries? 

In flight, do you know the airspace’s controlling agency and how to contact it for activity updates?

Following several recent incursions into restricted areas in Arizona, AOPA is joining with the Air Force to raise the awareness of pilots of the flight-planning needs, and collision avoidance and situational awareness requirements of flying in or near airspace shared by military and civilian aircraft. AOPA also offers training resources pilots can use as a refresher on the various kinds of SUA.

Even pilots who consider themselves meticulous in preflight preparation and navigation can stray into trouble if they are flying based on mistaken assumptions about their position relative to restricted areas or other SUA. If pilots depend on electronic navigation to avoid SUA, it’s a good idea to review the data input regularly for accuracy of user waypoints.

In recent weeks, three unrelated incursions into restricted areas in the vicinity of Gila Bend, Ariz., may point to pilot uncertainty about their positions in an area where the Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary airport and a VOR several miles away use the same three-letter identifier. And the navaid is located at a separate Gila Bend Municipal Airport (identifier: E63) a few miles north of the military base.

An FAA effort to mitigate the problem involves renaming the VOR and changing its identifier, said Tom Kramer, AOPA manager of airspace and modernization. He added that no single common factor has been identified for the three incursions, which cannot be traced back to a single airport, area, or type of operation.

The Air Force has offered to provide safety speakers to groups of pilots interested in learning more about SUA in the Southwest. Contact Luke Air Force Base Airspace Management at 623/856-5855for more information:

The AOPA Air Safety Institute offers the online course Mission Possible: Navigating Today’s Special Use Airspace for pilots who would like a comprehensive refresher on safe operations in and near SUA.

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.