Unmanned Aircraft, See and Avoid?

UAS NPRMThe first proposal for unmanned aircraft regulations appeared in the Federal Register yesterday.  A small unmanned aircraft, less than 55 lbs, could fly for commercial purposes up to 500 feet above the ground.  I am in favor of adopting new technologies, and I took the time to write some constructive comments for the official docket.  This is just a summary.

Unmanned Aircraft at Class G Airports:  I asked the FAA to add coordination procedures for unmanned aircraft operating on or near uncontrolled airports.  It is nice to allow unmanned aircraft to use these airports, but the “see and avoid” rule seems like a bad idea for these tiny machines.

Unmanned Aircraft at Towered Airports:  I asked the FAA to disallow unmanned flights at controlled airports when the ceiling is less than 1,000 feet.  I did not see a reason why manned airplanes should share an airport under instrument flight rules with a visually operated unmanned aircraft.

Flight Instructors Accepting Certificate Applications:  In granting the CFI privilege of accepting certificate applications, the FAA would create an authority similar to a pilot examiner.  I think it is interesting that the assumed price for this application process is $50.  Even without a practical test requirement, the CFI may be obligated to devote time to adequately research the regulations, to evaluate the applicant, and to assist the applicant in this process beyond what might be worth $50.

New Detroit Airspace Effective April 3

Diagram of the proposed Class B airspace configuration
Finalized Airspace Configuration

The FAA finalized last week the redesigned Class B airspace over Detroit, Michigan, as proposed August 2012, effective 3 April 2014 to coincide with the next chart cycle.

With this new rule came another discussion of the impact on flight training activities at EMU:

The Class B airspace established southwest of DTW is required to contain large turbine-powered aircraft conducting dual SIILS arrival procedures to Runways 4L/3R, as well as arrivals entering the DTW terminal airspace via the POLAR1 STAR. It extends over approximately three quarters of the Eastern Michigan University (EMU) Aviation flight school’s southern practice area with 3,500-foot MSL, 4,000-foot MSL, and 6,000-foot MSL Class B airspace floors. The EMU southern practice area is subdivided into four sub-areas with virtually no impact to the west northwest sub-area and minor impacts to the southern sub-area, but training activities in the northeast and southeast sub-areas will be limited to 4,000 feet MSL, unless pilots receive a Class B airspace clearance. The FAA does not expect a substantive change to the concentration of VFR training aircraft or training activities conducted in that practice area or the other practice areas located further southwest of DTW under the 6,000-foot MSL Class B airspace shelf. The training activities conducted in those practice areas today could continue under the DTW Class B airspace or within Class B airspace with the appropriate Class B airspace clearance.

Missing from this discussion, again, is the fact that it is often not possible to obtain a Class B airspace clearance in the existing Detroit area.  To say that there is “virtually no impact” from expanding Class B airspace seems inaccurate.  Maneuvers such as chandelles and power-on stalls often exceed 6,000 feet to conserve time and altitude during training.  The airspace changes are likely to cause students to practice these maneuvers at lower altitudes.

Expansion of the Class B airspace designated to the surface appears to intersect the visual route between the EMU southern practice area and the base airport YIP, which will impact that training route and all south departures.

The new airspace certainly brings exciting changes to the entire Detroit area this summer.  Be careful to maintain awareness of the new airspace boundaries.

Previous Post: Detroit Airspace Redesign

Detroit Airspace Redesign

Diagram of the proposed Class B airspace configuration
Proposed Airspace Configuration

This is a heads up for anyone interested in commenting on the new Detroit airspace.  NPRM comments must be received by the FAA deadline next Monday, October 15.

I was able to get a sneak peek of the proposal back in March, so I’m already psyched up to start flying in a much larger and more complex terminal area.  Here are a few observations about the changes:

Over Ann Arbor, 3,400 ft will be the only usable level without a clearance.  On the bright side, the ambiguous sector where Class B at 3,000 ft overlaps Class D at 3,300 ft will be eliminated.

At Willow Run, it will no longer be possible to depart the Class D airspace VFR to the south without a clearance to do so.

The FAA makes an interesting remark about Eastern Michigan University training traffic.  According to the NPRM, “the FAA does not agree, therefore, that the proposed Class B airspace area would render the EMU training area south of ARB unusable or force a concentration of VFR training aircraft in EMU’s north training area.”

I think both EMU and the FAA have good points here.  The FAA suggests training may continue in the south practice area so long as a Class B clearance is obtained by each pilot operating above 4,000 ft.  This is true, however those clearances are issued on a workload-permitting basis, and Detroit is sometimes unable to take VFR requests even in the current configuration.  EMU may be correct that this would occasionally lead to congestion north of Ann Arbor.

There is also one statement I have to disagree with, where the FAA says, “the other half of EMU’s training area remains completely useable; either under a proposed Class B airspace shelf with a 6,000-foot MSL floor or outside the lateral boundary of the proposed Class B airspace area altogether.”  The only portion of the training area that is actually outside the proposed airspace is a tiny triangular corner, approximately 1.5 miles on each side.  I hope for a more precise consideration of this point if it gets mentioned in the final rule.

Next Post: New Detroit Airspace Effective April 2014