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Air Traffic Services Brief: Military "Lights-Out" Training in MOAs

Air Traffic Services Brief: Military "Lights-Out" Training in MOAs


The U.S. Air Force (USAF) will be conducting "lights-out" training utilizing night vision goggles (NVGs) without lighted aircraft position lights in military operations areas (MOAs). The AOPA Air Safety Foundation released Mission: Possible Navigating Today's Special Use Airspace, an online safety seminar, to teach pilots how to deal with military lights-out training.

The issue

On January 24, 2003, the USAF was granted an exemption by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to Title 14 CFR Part 91.209(a)(1) and (b), in order to conduct "lights-out" training utilizing NVGs without lighted aircraft position lights in select MOAs.

The importance to our members

"Lights-out" training operations are conducted within restricted airspace, warning areas, and, most recently, select MOAs. As a result, nonparticipating general aviation (GA) aircraft share airspace with unlit, high-speed military aircraft conducting training sorties.

This exemption significantly impacts how the pilot of a nonparticipating aircraft exercises his or her "see and avoid" responsibilities mandated by Title 14 CFR Part 91.113(b), which states in part:

"...When weather conditions permit, regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft...."

This regulation makes no distinction between civil and military pilots and is mandated for all airspace users. Title 14 CFR Part 91.209 requires the use of aircraft position and anti-collision lighting systems between sunset and sunrise. By doing so, aircraft conspicuity is increased and, with it, flight safety.

Nonparticipating pilots have to rely completely on the actions of another aircraft pilot, one with whom they will have no contact (visual or otherwise). Although USAF pilots are among the best-trained aviators in the world, there is an inherent danger in having dissimilar aircraft operating under the prescribed conditions without certain safeguards being in place. In short, GA pilots must be given the tools necessary to fly safely in such an environment.


On July 18, 2001, the USAF filed a petition with the Department of Transportation seeking relief from the requirements of Title 14 CFR Part 91.209(a)(1) and (b). With this petition, the USAF wished to conduct certain night flight military training operations in various aircraft without lighted aircraft position lights.

To enhance their ability to see the outside environment, crews fly using NVGs. The use of traditional aircraft lighting "washes out" the pilot's field of vision, hampering their ability to operate safely.

Historically, lights-out training has been conducted in special-use airspace areas that limited the possibility of conflict with nonparticipating traffic. In their petition, the USAF asserted that due to factors such as the demand, size, accessibility, location, and geographical features of many warning and restricted areas, it was necessary to conduct lights-out training operations within MOAs.

Based on AOPA recommendations, the FAA implemented provisions, including:

  • NVG operations conducted under the exemption are limited to the specific MOAs listed in the exemption.
  • Military personnel must continuously monitor operations conducted in selected MOAs in order to detect all nonparticipating aircraft.
  • The FAA Flight Standards Service will provide information to be published in the Aeronautical Information Manual that will provide clarification of the procedures developed for these operations and additional guidance for pilots who operate civil aircraft in the MOAs.
  • The USAF must establish a procedure to provide informational briefings to local flying organizations, businesses, and other civilian users within 100 nautical miles of the MOA airspace. These briefings must be provided annually and must be coordinated with the manager of the appropriate flight standards district office (FSDO). The intent is to increase their awareness of lights-out operations and open lines of communications between the USAF and the civilian users of the MOA airspace.
  • In response to this provision, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation teamed with the USAF and the Department of Defense to produce Mission: Possible, Navigating Today's Special Use Airspace, a safety seminar designed specifically to teach civil pilots how to deal with military lights-out training.

AOPA's position

The events of September 11, 2001, have forever changed the way in which the nation views national defense. However, what has not changed is AOPA's commitment to ensuring the safety of its members while operating within our National Airspace System. AOPA has continued to maintain close working relationships with the USAF and the FAA in order to mitigate the impacts of NVG training in MOAs. As a result of those efforts, many of AOPA's recommendations have been incorporated into the exemption. We will continue to work with the FAA and USAF to ensure that provisions in the exemption are satisfied.


On July 27, 2006, the FAA granted the USAF an extension to exemption No. 7960 until January 31, 2009, which was originally set to expire January 31, 2005. The USAF reapplied twice for the exemption in order to continue "lights-out" training in MOAs past the January 31, 2005, expiration date. The extension also granted the USAF permission to include participation of aircraft from other military services while conducting joint operations. The latest extension also added the Dolphin MOA, located in Oregon, to the list of MOAs available for the lights-out activity.

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Updated Wednesday, December 05, 2007 9:45:42 AM