The FAA on Friday suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly established a temporary flight restriction (TFR) area near Nogales, Arizona, along the Mexican border for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flights.
"While there has been ongoing discussion regarding TFRs for U.S. Customs Border Patrol UAV operations, the unexpected, immediate implementation of this TFR raises concerns that the FAA and the Department of Homeland Security have not taken into consideration the impact that this kind of TFR has on general aviation," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. "The association staff is meeting this week with the FAA, Homeland Security, and other security officials to take up the issue."
This isn't the first time AOPA has raised concerns about UAV operations in airspace shared with general aviation.
AOPA has consistently insisted that unmanned aerial vehicles be able to detect and avoid other aircraft at least as well as "see and avoid" works for manned aircraft.
Currently, UAVs can't do that. And that's why UAVs need TFRs to cover their operations - to keep civilian aircraft out of the airspace so that there won't be a midair collision.
But that leads to another AOPA concern.
"We've also said that it would be unacceptable to cordon off large areas of civilian airspace in order to protect UAVs that can't avoid other aircraft," said Rudinger. "The implications of this TFR are alarming."
A 15 nautical mile-wide TFR along the U.S. southern border, for example, would impact more than 100 airports, more than 1,300 based aircraft, and nearly 750,000 annual general aviation flight operations.
AOPA has learned that the FAA plans to issue more TFRs this month, to extend the area covered by the Nogales TFR into New Mexico.
"This recent action underscores why general aviation cannot ignore UAVs," said Rudinger.
January 9, 2006