The FAA has finally reopened the comment docket on the controversial and long-debated Phelps Military Operations Area. The MOA would overlie restricted area R-5314 along the North Carolina coast and could impair general aviation operations at five area airports. Pilots have until February 25 to comment. [See also the Phelps MOA proposal.]
"Airspace users must give the FAA specific information," said AOPA Director of Airspace Melissa Bailey. "The FAA doesn't think this MOA will cause problems for GA pilots, but they won't know unless pilots tell them how this MOA will affect their flying."
Bailey said comments should include the impact of the MOA on flight operations, the length and cost of detours when the MOA is active, and other operational concerns. "Comments like 'the military already has too much airspace' won't do any good."
The Phelps MOA proposal, originally published in 1995, had been dormant for years. The FAA suddenly revived it in July 1999 and said the proposal would go forward without further user comment.
In August, AOPA filed an official request to reopen the public comment period. AOPA and other airspace users reminded the FAA that conditions have changed since the FAA first considered the proposal, including an increase in general aviation traffic in the area. The FAA told AOPA in November that it would reopen the comment docket "immediately," but the agency did not actually "re-circularize" the proposal until January 21.
The original Phelps MOA proposal by the U.S. Air Force was to give the military a higher altitude for practice runs in the Dare County Bombing Range. AOPA objected to the proposal at that time, pointing out the proliferation of special-use airspace in the area and its adverse effect on nearby airports. Affected would be Manteo's Dare County Regional Airport, Kill Devil Hills' First Flight Airport, Englehard's Hyde County Airport, Billy Mitchell Airport at Hatteras, and Ocracoke Island Airport.
For nearly three years, AOPA and local pilots worked with the FAA, the Air Force and Navy, congressional leaders, and local officials to mitigate the effects of the proposed Phelps MOA. At one point, eight congressmen signed an AOPA-suggested letter to the FAA terming "severe" the effects of the region's special-use airspace on civil air traffic. The congressional letter asked the FAA to work with airspace users to "ensure that military readiness is provided for without further impediments to civil aviation."
The revitalized Phelps MOA proposal includes access to real-time information on MOA use, with frequencies for both Dare County Range Control and Giant Killer Approach Control printed on sectional aeronautical charts. Real-time information on all special-use airspace is a long-term AOPA goal.
In addition, an FAA agreement with the Department of Defense would give priority to civilian IFR traffic using the area, thus minimizing the impact on pilots using busy north/south routes throughout the North Carolina Outer Banks area.
Pilots should submit comments to the FAA Southern Region, Air Traffic Division, ASO-530, P.O. Box 20636, Atlanta, GA 30320. (Comments submitted since November 1999 will be considered and do not need to be resubmitted.)
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More than one half of the nation's pilots are AOPA members, including 8,025 pilots in North Carolina.
January 24, 2000