A federal agency’s plan to study the environmental impact of expanding boundaries of a California marine sanctuary arbitrarily threatens general aviation safety but skirts any requirement to assess the impact on flight operations, AOPA said in a regulatory filing. The association urges members to study the proposal and submit comments by Oct. 10.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should analyze the impact on general aviation of its proposal to expand the boundaries of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, even though it is pursuing a rulemaking process that lets the agency avoid that step, AOPA said in formal comments.
In August, AOPA reported that NOAA’s study of expanding the sanctuary boundaries followed the enactment, in February, of a precedent-setting rule that gave NOAA power to regulate airspace. The rule also attached a presumption to some flights below 1,000 feet msl in the vicinity of sanctuaries that wildlife had been disturbed.
In formal comments submitted Oct. 3, AOPA noted that the proposed expansion area “is frequently used to transit north-south around the San Francisco airport Class B airspace. Given the frequent fog and low ceilings in the San Francisco Bay, pilots are often forced to fly at low altitudes—below 2,000 feet agl—in order to comply with FAA regulations. Any attempt to reduce the available airspace in this area will have a substantive impact on the safety, access, and efficiency of general aviation to transit the area.”
Also, jet traffic to and from the airport—which is the nation’s seventh busiest—far exceeds that produced by piston-powered aircraft.
“AOPA urges NOAA to formally declare whether or not the agency plans to expand overflight restrictions if and when the Monterey Bay sanctuary boundaries are modified,” wrote Tom Kramer, AOPA manager of airspace and modernization. “AOPA also urges NOAA to identify and analyze the economic and safety impacts on general aviation caused by both the expanded Marine Sanctuary boundaries and the potential expansion of overflight restrictions.”