General aviation flights in the vicinity of a coastal Mississippi restricted area that will expand substantially on May 26 will face fewer obstacles after AOPA participated in the two-year rulemaking process that produced the new airspace configuration.
On March 29, the FAA published a final rule stating dimensions and times of use of the revised restricted area (R-4403), which has been enlarged considerably from its previous dimensions, and has been divided into several sectors for training operations by NASA and the Naval Special Warfare Command.
During public comment periods in 2014 and 2015, AOPA expressed concerns about a number of adverse impacts the airspace plan would have on GA operations en route and at nearby airports. Of particular concern were a confusing range of times when adjoining sectors of R-4403 would be active; the positioning of a stand-alone VFR waypoint too close to the restricted area’s boundary to help pilots avoid the restricted area; and the effect on instrument approaches to Picayune Municipal Airport and Stennis International Airport in Bay St. Louis, said Rune Duke, AOPA director of airspace and air traffic.
In response, the FAA noted in its final rule that times of use of some sectors would be confined to published times with 24 hours notice to be given by notam, and removed a condition that the airspace sectors could be activated “at other times by notam.” A radio frequency will be published on the New Orleans sectional chart “so that pilots can call to determine the real-time status of the airspace.”
The FAA said it also agreed that the VFR waypoint was too close to R-4403 to serve a useful purpose. Instead it will establish “two new Visual Flight Rules (VFR) waypoints south of I-10 to assist pilots transitioning east and west in that area.”
The FAA addressed the impact on IFR operations at airports in the area, noting that “a number of mitigations such as the planned intermittent use of the complex, the ability of ATC to recall airspace, adjustment to instrument procedures, etc., are intended to lessen the overall impact of the restricted areas.”
Some instrument approaches to Stennis International Airport and Picayune Municipal Airport will be redesigned or modified to avoid penetrations of the restricted area by inbound aircraft or those on a missed approach. The May 26 effective date of the airspace changes coincides with the charting cycle for local VFR and IFR publications.
The final rule contains a complete list of mitigations agreed to as a result of user comments.
“AOPA encourages general aviation pilots to submit comments and offer recommendations to reduce the impact of special-use airspace and other airspace changes on GA,” Duke said. “This rulemaking proceeding is a good example of how there can be productive exchanges between the stakeholders.”