Salem, Oregon, pilots operating at Independence State Airport are celebrating after protests by local pilots, the Oregon Pilots Association, and AOPA caused the FAA to think twice about doubling the Class D airspace for neighboring McNary Field Airport.
Under a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published Sept. 21, the protected airspace will revert back to a shape similar to its current aeronautical chart depiction. According to the NPRM, the Salem Class D area would have a 5-nautical-mile radius except in the northwest to northeastern half, where it shifts down to only 4 nm. Class E airspace also would be reduced as part of the NPRM.
“The proposal reverts the overall shape back to something similar to what was previously in place,” said Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic. Changes to the Class D airspace the FAA posted on Aug. 20 were well ahead of the December charting cycle and had confounded Salem pilots and controllers alike.
Independence State is one of the state’s busiest general aviation airports with 200 hangar-homes and a comparable number of aircraft based on the field. Agricultural pilots involved in Christmas tree farming adjacent to the airports were hampered when the Salem Class D footprint expanded to almost 16 nm across because they couldn't fly their helicopters or airplanes for harvesting or spraying when McNary Field had IFR conditions.
Christmas tree farmers and agricultural aerial operators continue to be affected by the airspace expansion but the FAA has entered into a dialogue with them to look at methods of relief. Farm owners and agricultural pilots voiced concerns about working within the Class D airspace south of McNary Field and east of Independence State when Salem is under IFR conditions. When pilots are on instrument approaches, the aircraft are handled one-by-one, effectively shutting down airspace over nearby farmland.
AOPA sent a letter to the FAA on Sept. 8, along with the Oregon Pilots Association, and others, protesting the earlier Salem airspace changes. Those actions had already resulted in a win for pilots after the FAA signed a letter of agreement that called for a larger Independence State footprint.
The NPRM will provide pilots on instrument approaches to McNary Field more protection to the west and south without squeezing Independence State pilots into a narrow corridor. The FAA said a review of the airspace revealed an increase and reconfiguration was needed to protect IFR operations at Salem’s Runway 13/31, with rising terrain factoring into the airspace changes.
Duke said the FAA’s responsiveness has been an important part of the conversation and it has helped reduce the impact of the airspace expansion at Salem.
“AOPA will be commenting on the proposal and continuing to push for additional relief for ag operators who are not covered under the existing letter of agreement,” Duke said.
Pilots are urged to review the proposal and submit comments to the Federal Register; reference FAA Docket No. FAA-2015-3751 and Airspace Docket No. 15-ANM-20 in your comments. Please also send a copy of your comments to AOPA.