Between airspace that allows access all the time, some that allows it only part time, and that which is simply defined on a chart for reference, it's no wonder pilots have difficulty navigating the special-use airspace in the National Airspace System.
Special-use airspace, or SUA, is generally defined as an area where activities must be confined because of their nature or to separate nonparticipating traffic from the area. There are a number of different types, including restricted, prohibited, alert, warning, national security, and military operations areas, or MOAs. The majority of SUA is designated for use by the government.
The most important aspect of understanding SUA is not necessarily what each area is used for, but rather when it is active. Finding this information can be somewhat problematic. Each area is described on the applicable sectional and low altitude en route chart. The operating times and controlling agency also are listed. Unfortunately, the operating times listed cannot be trusted. Every agency that uses SUA deviates from the published times relatively frequently. Pilots must make sure to get the most current information.
If you were to believe the Aeronautical Information Manual, the most current information on usage could be obtained from your local flight service station. If only it were that easy. Because of the way information is disseminated to the FAA from the military or government entity that uses the airspace, flight service often has no current information on the airspace in question. If you want the most current information on the status of a particular SUA, the best place to find it is through the controlling agency listed on the chart. This is often the local en route air traffic control center or a terminal facility.
Recently, the FAA made a leap forward in disseminating information about SUA usage. Whereas previously each entity using SUA was encouraged to provide information to the FAA, it is now required to do so. To top it off, the FAA launched a terrific Web site, which graphically depicts the real-time status of almost every SUA in the country. It is available on AOPA Online.
With more information being disseminated to pilots, it's quite possible the FAA will bridge the SUA knowledge gap. Contact AOPA's Pilot Information Center for more details. The pilots in the center have flown up, down, and around almost every piece of SUA in the country. Contact the information center at 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672).
More information on special-use airspace may be found here.
Answers to frequently asked questions about your AOPA membership
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Q: I had a great time at AOPA's Expo in Tampa. Where will the 2006 Expo be held, and when can I register for it?
A: The 2006 AOPA Expo will be held in Palm Springs, California, from November 9 through 11 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Don't miss the Parade of Planes on Wednesday, November 8. Registration will begin in early June 2006. Visit the Web site for more announcements and details in the coming months.
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