AOPA has formalized its opposition to proposed military operations areas that would effectively compress GA traffic into a 1,000-foot-altitude band and severely limit access to airports near Cherry Point over North Carolina's Outer Banks. In comments filed yesterday, AOPA contends that the FAA didn't properly notify users about the proposal and asks for a 60-day extension for additional comments.
"Neither AOPA nor local airports received formal notification of this plan, and the FAA sent notices to only a handful of area pilots," said Heidi Williams, AOPA manager of air traffic policy. "Both the FAA and the U.S. Navy are very aware that local pilots, Outer Banks communities, and AOPA have opposed these MOAs for almost a decade.
"Given that, you can't help but wonder if this was a deliberate attempt to slide the formal proposal 'under the radar.'" AOPA only found out about the airspace action because a local pilot faxed the letter he received to the association.
AOPA contends that the establishment of the Core and Gunny (previously called Matamuskeet) MOAs along and just inland from the Outer Banks, from 3,000 to 17,999 feet agl, would create safety hazards and operational difficulties for general aviation pilots.
The U.S. Marines say they'll be flying in the MOAs most of the time, which effectively puts them "off-limits" to GA pilots. Some 73 percent of AOPA members say they avoid flying through MOAs because of difficulty in determining when they are "hot."
That means most GA pilots will choose to fly below 3,000 feet to stay underneath the MOAs. But there's also a reason why the military didn't ask for that low-level airspace; their own environmental assessment states that bird strikes are most likely below 3,000 feet. And both MOAs overlie areas where waterfowl abound, including several national wildlife areas.
The Core MOA also overlies the Cape Lookout National Seashore. According to the Aeronautical Information Manual and aviation charts, pilots are "requested to maintain at least 2,000 feet above the surface" of national parks, monuments, seashores, and wildlife areas. That effectively compresses all VFR traffic in the area into a 1,000-foot section of altitude, creating congestion and leaving very little room to see and avoid other aircraft.
The MOA would severely limit flights along the Outer Banks southwest of Ocracoke Island. Combined with the existing restricted and warning areas, "this would further limit GA access to Smith Field (MRH) at Beaufort, North Carolina," said Williams, "and limit southbound transition routes for Ocracoke Island (W95), Billy Mitchell (HSE), Hyde County (7W6), Dare County Regional (MQI) and First Flight (FFA) airports." These airports collectively handle more than 140,000 flights a year.
"A good number of those operations are pilots from other areas. Considering the importance of tourism to the Outer Banks, any restrictions on GA will also have an impact on the local economy," said Williams.
"When you combine the effects of the proposed and existing special-use airspace, increased military flight operations, and limited radar coverage that precludes real-time airspace management and collision advisories to civilian pilots, it becomes clear that the proposed establishment of the Core and Gunny MOAs are not in the best interest of general aviation pilots."
August 19, 2004