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Answers for Pilots: Some like it hotAnswers for Pilots: Some like it hot

Two general aviation pilots flying VFR through an active military operations area (MOA) recently experienced close encounters with F-16s in two separate incidents. Conflicts like these encourage us to review the rules for flying in special use airspace.

Two general aviation pilots flying VFR through an active military operations area (MOA) recently experienced close encounters with F-16s in two separate incidents. Conflicts like these encourage us to review the rules for flying in special use airspace.

Can GA aircraft fly through a hot MOA? Yes. ATC routinely directs IFR traffic through active MOAs if there is no obvious conflict. All VFR pilots on flight plans or with flight following are responsible to see and avoid conflicting traffic. However, since only seconds pass between seeing an approaching F-16 and a possible collision, there may not be enough time to steer clear.

To avoid potential conflicts, AOPA encourages VFR pilots to divert around hot airspace whenever practical. Before departure, call flight service and ask for the special use airspace (SUA) status along your route. Although sectional charts show the hours of SUA activity, the times can and do change. Also check AOPA’s online SUA database, which is updated every six minutes with status and activity times. While en route, contact flight service 100 miles from the MOA for current information.

Flying at night through a hot MOA presents an even greater risk to VFR flights. Although FAR 91.209 requires aircraft position lights be on from sunset to sunrise, the U.S. military was granted an exemption to this rule a few years ago for the purpose of conducting lights-out training exercises using night vision goggles (NVGs). GA pilots can’t see the unlit military aircraft, making seeing and avoiding impossible—although military pilots wearing the goggles can see aircraft and terrain quite clearly.

At the time the exemption was under consideration, AOPA worked with the FAA and the Air Force to implement several safeguards that restrict NVG operations to designated MOAs, and require ATC notification at their start and finish. Military pilots are required to watch for nonparticipating aircraft entering hot airspace, and if there’s a conflict, the NVG training must be modified, suspended, or terminated. The military must hold annual briefings for local users.

The Air Force and Department of Defense partnered with the AOPA Air Safety Foundation to produce the online course, Mission: Possible—Navigating Today’s Special Use Airspace, and a Safety Advisor, Lights-Out—A New Collision Avoidance Challenge, both on AOPA’s Web site. On some military Web sites, their Midair Collision Avoidance (MACA) program pages link to AOPA resources. With pilots better educated about MOA operations, and all parties adhering to procedures, GA and the military can safely share the sky. Questions? Call us at 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672).

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