The FAA continues to accept comments on a U.S. Marine Corps proposal to expand military operations areas (MOAs) near Cherry Point over North Carolina's Outer Banks. The decision to accept comments beyond the deadline follows AOPA's challenge to the agency last month that it had not properly notified users about the proposal.
AOPA asked for a formal, 60-day extension for comments on the proposal to create the Core and Gunny (previously called Mattamuskeet) MOAs. The FAA didn't grant that, but officials in FAA's Southern Region did tell AOPA that the agency would continue to accept comments through the end of September.
Comments on the effect of the MOAs on aeronautical activity should be sent to:
Federal Aviation Administration
Air Traffic Division
Manager, Operations Branch (ASO-530.8)
P.O. Box 20636
Atlanta, Georgia 30320
Very few airspace users were notified about the comment period before it officially ended August 18. AOPA was not formally notified, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation received notice a scant two days before the end of the comment period. Several local airport managers weren't notified either.
AOPA contends that the establishment of the Core and Gunny 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 limit flights along the Outer Banks southwest of Ocracoke Island. Combined with the existing restricted and warning areas, the Core MOA would further limit GA access to Smith Field (MRH) at Beaufort, North Carolina, and limit southbound transition routes for Ocracoke Island (W95), Billy Mitchell (HSE), Hyde County (7W6), Dare County Regional (MQI) and First Flight (FFA) airports, AOPA says. These airports collectively handle more than 140,000 flights a year.
September 9, 2004