AOPA on Tuesday sent a strongly worded letter to the FAA, opposing a moored balloon experiment near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and blasting the agency for giving a mere 10 days' notice. Moreover, the comment period on the proposal ends one day after the entire experiment is scheduled to end.
"We would hope that in the future, common sense would prevail at the FAA," said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula. "While there are no written guidelines for public comment periods on weather studies, it only makes sense to solicit ways to mitigate impact before a proposal is implemented—not during or after the effective period."
Millersville University wants to conduct atmospheric studies using a moored balloon that would extend above the minimum obstacle clearance altitudes for several airways in the Lancaster, Pa., area.
According to the notification sent out December 23, 2003, the study area is located 9 nautical miles southwest of Lancaster, Pa., close to the Susquehanna River. The cables and balloons used in the study would be lit and launched during VFR conditions extending up to 3,600 feet msl. Notification of the balloon launches are to be issued by notams six to 72 hours in advance of the balloon study.
According to the notice, the study is set to begin on January 2, 2004, and run through February 15, 2004. The FAA is accepting comments through February 16.
"Because of the impacts to the airways and serious safety-of-flight issues, and the lack of proper notification, we have asked the FAA to prohibit the use of national airspace for the upcoming atmospheric studies until the safety issues can be resolved," said Melissa Bailey, AOPA's vice president of Regulatory Affairs.