New Mexico pilots fear a proposed rule change in their state may cause innocent pilots to get caught up in attempts to identify those illegally using aircraft for game spotting. Hunters and pilots agree that spotting game from the air during hunting season is not good sportsmanship. But proposed language in a New Mexico Department of Game and Fish regulation is so general that it may make it illegal for any individual to use an aircraft for the purpose of transporting hunters or simply passing through hunting areas.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish proposed the rule change that states: “It is unlawful for any individual for the purpose of hunting, to locate or assist in locating a protected species from...an aircraft.” Because it’s almost impossible to determine a pilot’s “purpose” of flight from a bystander perspective, many general aviation operations could become the subject of unnecessary investigation even if they are in compliance with the federal aviation regulations.
With roughly 5,500 pilots and more than 3,400 GA aircraft in the state, New Mexico’s fleet is strong. Many grassroots pilot groups including the New Mexico Pilots Association, Recreational Aviation Foundation, and New Mexico Airstrip Network put out a call to action opposing the rule change. According to the groups, there’s no evidence aviation has had a significant negative impact on New Mexico’s wildlife resources. While the proposed legislation singles out GA activity, it excludes commercial air operations entirely.
As stated in AOPA’s letter, “law-abiding aircraft owners and pilots who are conducting flights in compliance with the FARs may be erroneously accused of violating this proposed rule, unreasonably questioned by law enforcement, or wrongfully cited with criminal complaints.”
AOPA recommends the department work with the local groups to craft a rule with a suitable exception for GA. Local pilots can respond to the call to action (19.31.10) via mail to the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Attn: Field Operations Rule Development, P.O. Box 25112, Santa Fe, NM 87504 or by email. The comment deadline is Oct. 18.