California can't regulate overflight of parks, AOPA says

April 8, 2014

AOPA is requesting the immediate withdrawal of an amended draft regulation that would set minimum altitudes for aircraft flying over California state parks being proposed by the state’s Department of Parks and Recreation. As written, the amended draft regulation conflicts with preemptive federal regulations and would have far-reaching effects and implications for general aviation pilots.

Under the amended draft, The California Department of Parks and Recreation would prohibit aircraft from flying lower than 2,000 feet agl in wilderness areas or lower than 500 feet agl in cultural preserves or natural preserves. “While AOPA recognizes the state’s mission to conserve and manage the state park system’s cultural and natural preserves, we are concerned with the far-reaching effects and implications of this draft regulation on general aviation and the aviation industry,” wrote Melissa McCaffrey, AOPA senior government analyst for air traffic services, in an April 4 letter to the state.

The FAA has sole authority to regulate airspace in the National Airspace System, said McCaffrey. “While the amended version of the most recent draft regulation is slightly different than what was published in 2013, [the California Department of Parks and Recreation] is still proposing to set minimum altitudes which are inconsistent with FAA regulations,” she added.

A pilot operating within navigable airspace in the National Airspace System and in full compliance with all federal aviation regulations could be inadvertently in conflict with California Department of Parks and Recreation regulations. “Pilots have a reasonable expectation to be familiar with applicable FARs and the operating parameters established therein,” said McCaffrey. “Allowing multiple agencies to control national airspace would create a patchwork quilt of overlapping and potentially contradictory regulations from federal, state, and local municipalities, ultimately creating insurmountable barriers for pilots.”

The FAA, through their flight standards district offices, are fully equipped to handle such issues and assist local governments in finding solutions that align with federal regulations, while retaining the appropriate level of public safety expected in any given area.

“We encourage [the California Department of Parks and Recreation] to work collaboratively with the FAA to further educate pilots on overflights of sensitive areas,” said McCaffrey. AOPA is also willing to help the California Department of Parks and Recreation perform more outreach and education to California’s pilot community on the location of noise-sensitive areas and to “fly friendly” in accordance with FAA recommendations, she added.