NOAA rule has unintended consequences for GA pilots

A new rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) usurps the FAA’s authority to regulate airspace and could leave pilots unintentionally violating a restricted zone that does not appear on any current aeronautical charts, according to officials with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

The two organizations have jointly sent a letter to the two federal agencies urging no enforcement action will be taken until proper coordination and education with the aviation community is completed.

NOAA’s new rule, which amends overflight regulations for the Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, Gulf of the Farallones, and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuaries off the coast of northern California, is not officially an airspace restriction according to NOAA and FAA. However, EAA and AOPA maintain that NOAA established the overflight rule in violation of federal law, which states that FAA is the sole U.S. airspace authority.

In their letter, EAA and AOPA maintain the NOAA action “sets a hazardous precedent for other government agencies to follow” because it allows those agencies to establish flight rules without coordination with FAA through its usual rulemaking procedures.

“The NOAA rule does not align with the existing charted sanctuary boundaries, nor does it mirror FAA’s guidance found in the FAA Advisory Circular 91-36D, Visual Flight Rules in the Vicinity of Sensitive Areas,” wrote EAA and AOPA in their letter, which was signed by Sean Elliott, EAA’s vice president of advocacy and safety, and Heidi Williams, AOPA vice president of air traffic services and modernization.

EAA and AOPA also note that NOAA has provided no resources to educate the aviation community about the change, adding that NOAA had adequate time to coordinate its efforts with the FAA to ensure compliance by aviators. NOAA also did not share the boundaries of the sanctuary with EAA and AOPA when requested to do so. As written, the NOAA rule imposes the same operational restrictions and civil penalties as FAA-issued restrictions.

“Pilots are now facing fines of up to $100,000 for violating a regulation where details of the boundaries have been withheld graphically until a later date when the agencies can collaborate,” the EAA/AOPA letter noted.

“AOPA and EAA remain committed to educating and ensuring members adopt ‘flying friendly’ procedures over any noise sensitive areas,” the letter continued. However, flight safety concerns must take priority and agencies without jurisdiction over flight safety – such as NOAA – should not impose restrictions that are not in alignment with the FAA, the agency tasked with flight safety and airspace regulation.

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