AOPA has voiced its opposition to parts of a New Mexico Training Range Initiative that would expand military airspace in a way that creates safety hazards for general aviation.
The proposal by the 27th Fighter Wing at Cannon Air Force Base would expand Melrose Air Force Range by creating a new Capitan MOA/ATC Assigned Airspace (ATCAA) and enlarging the existing Pecos MOAs, which are approved for lights-out training. The proposal would allow supersonic flight at common general aviation altitudes.
"AOPA is gravely concerned with the potential impact on flight safety if general aviation air traffic is forced to 'see and avoid' F-16s maneuvering at supersonic airspeeds," said Heidi Williams, AOPA director of air traffic services, in comments to the Air Force. "Such a situation presents undeniable risks to flight safety for both military and general aviation pilots."
AOPA has recommended that the Air Force adopt an alternative detailed in the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) that would expand the Pecos High and Low MOAs but not create the Capitan MOA/ATCAA. This option would allow general aviation pilots to efficiently deviate around the expanded special-use airspace (SUA) complex without creating additional flight safety concerns associated with the Capitan.
AOPA also requested that the Air Force analyze the impact that expanding lights-out and supersonic operations would have on the flight safety of general aviation aircraft operating in the same airspace.
In its entirety, the proposal would drop the floor for supersonic flight from 30,000 feet to 10,000 feet mean sea level (msl), which is approximately 5,000 to 6,000 feet above ground level (agl) - altitudes frequently used by much slower general aviation aircraft. It also would expand military lights-out operations in the Pecos MOAs.
AOPA opposes the creation of the Capitan MOA because it restricts VFR and IFR traffic flying between Roswell, New Mexico, and points to the northwest.
The creation of the Capitan MOA, which typically would be active approximately two hours a day about 24 days a year, would compress IFR traffic into a narrow 3,500-foot-tall corridor along V68-83. A small portion of the airway below 12,500 feet would be the only airway available for IFR transitions around an SUA complex encompassing nearly 3,300 square miles.
Expansion of the Pecos MOAs to the west would impact V291, which also runs between the Corona VOR and Roswell, essentially closing the airway every weekday for most of the day.
This would force pilots flying between Roswell and Albuquerque to fly under, or deviate 176 nautical miles around, the MOAs. Most general aviation pilots would deviate. A 2003 survey of AOPA members showed that 73 percent of them deviated around MOAs in part because of the lack of accurate real-time status information on that airspace.
The Air Force is seeking comments through February 21 on the EIS. Comments on the proposed SUA expansion should be sent to:
Ms. Brenda Cook
129 Andrews St., Ste 102
Langley AFB, VA 23665-2769
February 17, 2005