AOPA represents general aviation pilots in every Class B and C modification process as part of an ad hoc user group. The group—which comprises about 20 individuals representing a cross section of the airspace users from hot air balloons to airlines and military to airport businesses—meets to examine the FAA’s proposal, analyze the impact it could have on aviation operations, and make recommendations.
Group members are encouraged to visit the local terminal radar approach control facility to observe controllers’ operations, take controllers on a flight of the area, and conduct research to gain a better understanding of how airspace changes would impact flight operations. Once the group comes to a consensus on the recommendations, they present their ideas to the FAA to consider before it gathers recommendations from informal airspace meetings. All recommendations are reviewed with airspace safety and efficiency in mind before a notice of proposed rulemaking is issued.
“It is important that the group agrees on the recommendations as a whole, even though, in some cases, not every member approves of every single recommendation. This united voice makes the group more effective in getting the FAA to incorporate its changes in the final design,” said Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airspace and modernization. “However, it is important to note that the FAA has the final authority whether to accept or reject the recommendations in part or whole.”
AOPA recently participated in user group meetings for the redesign of Seattle’s Class B airspace. While the FAA has yet to hold public meetings or release its notice of proposed rulemaking, the association is hopeful that the FAA will use the group’s recommendations.
“The Seattle ad hoc user group thought outside the box in order to accommodate all airspace users,” Williams said. “The Washington Department of Transportation Aviation Division led the group in analyzing impacts to the entire community, resulting in a proposal that will be beneficial to everyone, should the FAA accept all of the recommendations.”
Even if the FAA doesn’t take all of the group’s recommendations, AOPA and general aviation pilots still have the opportunity to try to mitigate a proposal’s impact.
For example, the FAA’s notice of proposed rulemaking for the Charlotte Class B airspace would negatively impact a general aviation airport’s skydiving operations, which in turn could hurt the facility financially. During the public comment period, AOPA requested a cutout for the airport, Chester Catawba Regional Airport in South Carolina.
In addition to mitigating the impact on GA, AOPA uses the opportunity to encourage efficient use of the airspace. Lowering the ceiling of the airspace and examining VFR flyways and area navigation T-routes are proposals that greatly benefit GA. The association presented those points in its formal comments regarding the proposed Charlotte Class B changes. The FAA currently is reviewing all of the public comments it received during the review period.
“In every modification, we are looking for ways the FAA can utilize the airspace most efficiently while ensuring GA operations can be accommodated,” said Williams. “Maybe it is lowering the Class B ceiling from 10,000 feet to 7,000 feet or 8,000 feet; maybe it is creating a cutout over an airport or raising the floor of the airspace in some areas. If it’s a move that won’t compromise safety, we’re going to ask for it.”
AOPA will be asking for these efficiencies in the upcoming redesign of the Las Vegas Class B airspace. In an effort to set the stage for the anticipated efficiencies of the NextGen air traffic control system, the FAA is optimizing area navigation (RNAV) routing in the Las Vegas area, which could have a big impact on the amount of airspace needed to contain those procedures.
“There must be balancing act,” Williams said. “While RNAV routes are being optimized to improve efficiency, airspace design needs to be taken into account. We can’t have Class B airspace doubling in size to contain these routes, and AOPA will work to make sure GA’s needs are balanced with those of the airlines.”
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