The FAA posted a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) regarding Salem, Oregon’s McNary Field (KSLE) Class D and E airspace to the Federal Register on May 1, 2015. On Aug. 20, the proposed rule became final. No one noticed.
This happens all too often. I’d hazard a guess that most of the time, it isn’t even a problem. Or at least not a major problem. In this case, the proposed-now-final rule had a significant impact to the area’s airspace. But no one noticed.
No comments were made. Because no one noticed.
Upon learning the damage, the Oregon Pilots Association (OPA) took action. Congressmen were contacted. The Oregon Department of Aviation was contacted. The KSLE tower was contacted. The FAA was contacted… a lot.
So much noise was made, the KSLE airspace re-design has officially entered a do-over phase.
Step One: Since the prior rule is now final, the OPA reports “a Letter of Agreement that frees up the Independence airspace” is in effect until a new rule came be made final.
“The white section is still Delta, but you do not have to talk to the tower if it’s VFR on the SLE ATIS,” reports the OPA.
Step Two: The FAA, on Monday, Sept. 21, submitted a new NPRM to the Federal Register regarding KSLE airspace. The initial view of the airspace appears to be much more functional.
From the NPRM summary, “This action proposes to modify Class D airspace, Class E surface area airspace, and Class E airspace extending upward from 700 feet above the surface at McNary Field, Salem, OR. After further review, the FAA found some airspace unnecessary for Standard Instrument Approach Procedures for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) operations at the airport.”
So, care to comment? You can until Nov. 5, 2015.
Paul Speer says
Ben, I appreciate and agree with your encouragement that “we all step up” as it relates to user awareness of proposed changes in the NAS. This is the regulatory equivalent of “situational awareness” that we all practice in the cockpit.
That said, even a casual review of what is taking place at Salem provides an unambiguous picture of a regional office operating without adequate process control or consideration of the impact of their decisions beyond the four walls of the conference room where this D change was born. The statement “There is no other ‘official’ means for notifying the public that a change is imminent other than the Federal Register” comes across as management denial and rationalization. I know from first-hand involvement in airspace review work in this region that if there had been a desire to engage local users in this process there were any number of ways to do so if they had chosen to. The FAA protects a vital national interest ensuring safe and efficient operation of the NAS; the attitude reflected in their comment if properly quoted disrespects both the FAA mission as well as the work of thousands of dedicated FAA employees that we depend on as pilots, and that the public expects.
More sunlight on this issue might be created by investigating and reporting on questions such as:
1. “Where did the belief come from that doubling the radius of the D airspace at SLE was required to improve safety when the SLE tower was slated for closure as recently as 2013, and continues to fall below the FAA’s own annual operations guidelines for having a tower to begin with?”
2. “Given that a review of the AIDS, ASRS, NMACS, and NTSB databases reveals no examples of accidents or incidents that this expansion would resolve, what data was actually used to come up with this proposal?”
3. “Given that prior removal of two navaids (ARTTY fan maker and Turno NDB) has been described as the justification for this airspace change, was there not an SRMP conducted as part of their removal?”
4. “How was it possible to conduct a valid SRMP process on this most current change with apparently no local subject matter experts involved, no obvious data (point 2) supporting risk assessment, and which clearly decreased safety of airspace around Independence State airport (7S5)?” Moving risk from one part of the NAS to another part of the NAS without review is not consistent with the intent of the SRM process. Also, “were there any qualified pilots involved in the process whether FAA employees or not?”
5. “Assuming that there were inadvertent and legitimate TERPS issues created for the SALEM THREE Radar Departure by the past removal of ARTTY and Turno, what other options were considered in the latest SRMP and what were their relative risk scores?” As an example, why not simply require departing IFR traffic to remain on runway heading until reaching 2,700 before turning them on course?
6. “What assumptions drove the apparent view that there would be no economic or environmental impact with this NPRM?” In fact there is significant impact on local agricultural operations. Also, the change would arguably increase traffic around the edges of the proposed airspace over several communities that I am confident are not regularly checking the Federal Register.
7. Once called out on the impropriety of the airspace expansion the FAA has appropriately stepped back from the original proposal. That said, “what logic has driven the creation of a smaller airspace expansion in a second NPRM rather than simply withdrawing the proposal completely?”
As for the notification process – the point of your piece – to believe that weaknesses in the NPRM system caused this issue one must also believe that during the likely month’s long planning process and 45 day comment period the SLE tower also remained unaware. If this is true, the internal communication failure is not very flattering to the FAA. If this is not true, one has to further conclude that for whatever reason somewhere in the FAA a decision was made to simply hope that this one slid through without notice.
As a pilot I support the important work of the FAA and also believe we have an obligation to thoughtfully hold them accountable for upholding the standards of excellence that the work demands. Someone knew or should have known that this change was significant, unprecedented, and based on weak logic. To not attempt outreach beyond that minimally required by law and to then implement the change in text form outside of the charting cycle, including notices on ATIS (to aircraft in flight) advising to check the Federal Register looks like malpractice, not a communication issue. As I am writing this letter, Salem airspace is depicted one way on the latest sectional, another way depending on what GPS or EFB you subscribe to, another way in text in the back of the current AFD, another way on a letter of agreement from the FAA that is being disseminated by AOPA and OPA – all while there is no notam or LTA on federal notam system giving a clue to any of this. The Agency is capable of much, much better. Pilots, keep your ASRS forms handy for airspace busts.
Paul Speer says
I have reposted my comments from Ben’s “Subscribe to the Federal Register” piece here as well.
Given the handling of this debacle so far, accepting anything other than a complete reset of the airspace to its original configuration should be viewed as a loss for GA and users of the NAS in general. A “do-over” implies that there was an issue that necessitated changing the airspace to begin with. No consistent and complete public statement of what the problem that is trying to be solved here is – let alone why this is the best way to solve it.
Rol Murrow says
When reclassification was proposed about 1990 it is true that the original proposal contained “cookie cutter” plans for imposing the various classes of airspace on airports across the United States. In addition the sizes and depictions of the various classes were not well thought out.
The only advantage was that they were all the same, and as it turns out that was not an advantage at all because in many if not most cases they verly restricted access to airports near the primary airport, added controlled airspace where the big planes could not fly under ATC rules, such as adjacent to mountains (such as in the Los Angeles basin), or created new airspace the controllers did not want or need – such as the originally proposed 4,000 foot height above airport (HAA) for Class D airports.
As a founder of the Southern California Airspace Users Working Group, formed after the FAA unilaterally closed the VFR corridors across LAX which caused a large number of reported near collisions due to unexpected rerouting of VFR aircraft, I am very familiar with this issue. Our group not only redesigned the VFR corridors, which the FAA reinstated, but also prepared comments regarding the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Airspace Reclassification. I was the principal author of the comments, which we presented to the FAA in the form of a white paper. AOPA adopted the comments and endorsed them with the FAA.
A few of the changes involved reducing Class D heights to 2,500′ HAA, marking the ceiling height on charts, marking the boundaries of Class D areas on charts, providing for a user input process for all airspace changes and designs so local users could provide their experiences and expertise during the design process, and providing for changes for all classes of airspace in order to accommodate the needs and airspace realities in each area.
So – while the “cookie cutters” of altitudes and distances provided a starting point for each class of airspace, the user input permitted the designers to provide cutouts and corridors for local traffic to reach satellite airports and fly through the airspace, or to eliminate chunks of airspace that were either not needed to accommodate traffic at the primary airport, or were not feasible because of geographic and other constraints.
FAA adopted most of the recommendations and they are SUPPOSED to be used in airspace design and reconfiguration.
The problem is that as FAA old timers retire, along with knowledgeable folks in the aviation alphabet groups, the importance of the user input process gets forgotten or neglected.
This is very self defeating. It is well known by those familiar with the process of systems analysis and development that the user input process is absolutely essential to make sure a proposed system meets users’ needs and ways of working – and that it will also attain user acceptance.
In this case it is obvious that the NPRM was developed without the FAA initiating a user input process, so the problem had to be “fixed” or “patched” afterwards. That was a waste of time for both FAA staff and users.
Publishing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register and on FAA bulletin boards is not adequate.
I propose that FAA be required to publish proposed rulemaking and other proposed airspace or other changes affecting users, including graphical representations, directly to all pilots and other users in the affected region via email, such as is done for the FAASTEAM notices.
This practice would provide FAA with information essential for system designers to ensure the highest level of both safety and usability, and at the same time permit the users to be able to provide input, maintain a dialogue, and gain acceptance of the resulting changes.
Rol Murrow, Wolf Aviation Fund
Randy Coller says
One of the major concepts of the airspace redesign in 1990 (when the U.S. adopted the ICAO standard) was to make the various airspace classifications as similar as possible.
If you remember, the old ARSAs varied considerably in size and shape. This can be seen by looking at the TRSAs we have now (ARSAs that didn’t qualify by traffic volume to be designated as Class C).
Most Class C airspace was much like a “cookie cutter” design, 10 mile diameter inner circle, 20 mile diameter outer circle. Easy to remember. Almost all Class Ds were 10 mile diameter with slight variations. The new Salem design wanders quite a bit from the original cookie cutter design.
While I’m not a fan of “one size fits all” philosophy, in the design and implementation of airspace, it does help the pilot. FAA needs to strive to keep things as simple as possible.
Barry Branin says
The FAA person in charge of this region needs to have a job review. Not too long ago there was a lengthy battle over the airspace north of PDX around the Pearson airport. Many taxpayer hours and dollars were wasted to fight this battle. The FAA action was changed after a time but why was it necessary? There needs to be some requirement that before airspace changes are made the users groups be notified via some other method than the Federal Register.