Close Call in ABQ Center Airspace Raises Questions

By Robert Mark on July 11th, 2008

If you’re a pilot and and watch the AOPA video of the rocket-run the F-16 pilots ran on a couple of civil airplanes in March, you’ll probably lose your lunch. A Beech Premier and a PC-12 were transiting a Military Operations Area (MOA) that the ABQ Center controller obviously realized was active when the fighter decided to make the two civil pilots aware they were not wanted.

F-16 The aircraft came so close that the Traffic Collision and Avoidance System (TCAS) on the Premier generated first a Traffic Alert (TA) to warn of the impending conflict, quickly followed by a Resolution Alert (RA) demanding the pilot climb at a rate in excess of 3000 fpm to get out of the way. At cruise airspeed, that meant the Beech pilot probably squashed his passengers into their seats to avoid the fighter. premier

Pilots in both airplanes demanded FAA controllers offer up a way for them to complain about the shenanigans of the F-16 pilot when they realized the move were deliberate. My guess is the incident probably ruined the controller’s day too.

At lunch today with a bunch of other pilots I learned people don’t all understand MOA operations and what both pilots and controllers are expected to do. Question is, who’s correct?

Can you legally fly through an MOA on an IFR flight plan if the area is hot? Is it the controller’s responsibility to tell us the area is hot if we’re headed in that direction, or are is the pilot supposed to know and ask for avoidance? Whose airspace is the MOA, center’s or DoD’s? This all seems a bit gray to me and gray in Positive Control Airspace is not cool at all.

AOPA says FAA and the DoD are looking into the matter and that the F-16 pilot was whacked across the hands for the incident. What do you think?

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30 Responses to “Close Call in ABQ Center Airspace Raises Questions”

  1. Rick Says:

    >> Can you legally fly through an MOA on an IFR flight plan if the area is hot?

    Depends. See Paragraph 9-3-2 of FAAO 7110.65:

    http://www.faa.gov/airports_airtraffic/air_traffic/publications/atpubs/ATC/Chp9/atc0903.html#atc0903.html.1

    and paragraph 3-4-5a of the AIM:

    http://www.faa.gov/airports_airtraffic/air_traffic/publications/ATpubs/AIM/Chap3/aim0304.html#3-4-5

    >> Whose airspace is the MOA, centers or DoDs?

    Typically, the FAA is the “Controlling Agency” and the DOD is the “Using Agency” and there usually is a Letter or Agreement or Letter of Procedure that dicates the who does want and when.

  2. Ace Says:

    If the MOA’s active I keep ALL IFR aircraft out of it. Period. VFR I advise that it’s active and suggest a heading around it or an altitude underneath of it. Most agree to avoid it, but not all. There’s always some knucklehead that thinks he’s invincible.

  3. Ace Says:

    I just listened to it, and the aircraft said he was VFR. It’s HIS job ultimately, not the controller’s. This is a textbook case of a G/A pilot being where he shouldn’t be. It’s a MOA – stay out of it! Ground school 101…

  4. Ace Says:

    Taken right from the AIM:

    b. Examples of activities conducted in MOAs include, but are not limited to: air combat tactics, air intercepts, aerobatics, formation training, and low-altitude tactics. Military pilots flying in an active MOA are exempted from the provisions of 14 CFR Section 91.303(c) and (d) which prohibits aerobatic flight within Class D and Class E surface areas, and within Federal airways. Additionally, the Department of Defense has been issued an authorization to operate aircraft at indicated airspeeds in excess of 250?knots below 10,000 feet MSL within active MOAs.

  5. Robert Mark Says:

    I’ve been trying to visualize this incident since I read your comment Ace and it seems like the guy who wanted to file the complaint said he was the Premier that you think was flying VFR below the MOA?

    And while I agree pilots shouldn’t be in the MOA if it’s active, it sounds like the F-16 came under the Premier to cause the TCAS which meant the fighter was outside of the MOA.

    I see your note about activities in the MOA, but would could the Premier driver do if the fighter basically forced him to climb?

    Rob

  6. radarrat Says:

    If you fly in an ACTIVE MOA VFR you take the chance of being escorted in that MOA. TCAS or no TCAS in 25 years of ATC and 10 years as a pilot, the MOA is NOTAMed HOT and said to be in USE…flyer beware, they join up for a reason so as the F16 pilots train in an area designated for that training, the pilot know who you are and how to intercept you ! I stay FAR AWAY for ACTIVE MOA’s ! PERIOD !!!!

  7. Don Brown Says:

    Rob,

    I’m sure you’ve looked at this already but for your readers…(discussion follows)

    From the AIM

    http://www.faa.gov/airports_airtraffic/air_traffic/publications/atpubs/aim/Chap3/aim0304.html

    =================

    3-4-5. Military Operations Areas

    a. MOAs consist of airspace of defined vertical and lateral limits established for the purpose of separating certain military training activities from IFR traffic. Whenever a MOA is being used, nonparticipating IFR traffic may be cleared through a MOA if IFR separation can be provided by ATC. Otherwise, ATC will reroute or restrict nonparticipating IFR traffic.

    b. Examples of activities conducted in MOAs include, but are not limited to: air combat tactics, air intercepts, aerobatics, formation training, and low-altitude tactics. Military pilots flying in an active MOA are exempted from the provisions of 14 CFR Section 91.303(c) and (d) which prohibits aerobatic flight within Class D and Class E surface areas, and within Federal airways. Additionally, the Department of Defense has been issued an authorization to operate aircraft at indicated airspeeds in excess of 250?knots below 10,000 feet MSL within active MOAs.

    c. Pilots operating under VFR should exercise extreme caution while flying within a MOA when military activity is being conducted. The activity status (active/inactive) of MOAs may change frequently. Therefore, pilots should contact any FSS within 100 miles of the area to obtain accurate real-time information concerning the MOA hours of operation. Prior to entering an active MOA, pilots should contact the controlling agency for traffic advisories.

    =============================

    I just found out about this incident myself the other day so I haven’t been following it. My best *guess*….

    It appears the Premier didn’t like the fact he would have to deviate around the MOA and was VFR at 17,500. It’s been my experience that there is never a good reason for a business jet to be VFR outside the immediate airport area. Lots of excuses…it’s legal…but there’s never been a good reason for it. Haste makes waste and it never makes safety. A bad decision led to a bad consequence. Again, it’s just a guess.

    No comment about the PC-12. Not enough info.

    As to the F-16, he could have been visually IDing the guy (including getting close enough to read the N-number) or he could have been “sending a message”. I don’t know. Fighter jocks are fighter jocks. We don’t select them for their social skills.

    Following a TCAS RA when you know you’re transitioning a MOA and you know you’ve got an F-16 latched onto you ? Dumb. Real dumb. Don’t get me started on TCAS being used by people that haven’t really thought it through. PIC means something. It’s “Pilot In Command” — not machine in command. When you get through mulling that over you’ll see why I have real problems with TCAS RAs. You cannot serve two masters.

    Before the hate mail starts flowing…be honest. When’s the last time you read this ?

    AIM 5-6-2. Interception Procedures

    …and thought about how it would work with TCAS ?

    Don Brown
    http://gettheflick.blogspot.com/

  8. F16 Harasses Two Civilian Aircraft: “I Want To File A Complaint!” « Home of the Brave Says:

    […] tip, Jetwhine, which reported: The aircraft came so close that the Traffic Collision and Avoidance System (TCAS) […]

  9. Tony Yushinsky Says:

    Rob,

    First, kudos for blogging about the incident.

    We all need to work to make each other – pilots and controllers – better and safer.

    It’s unfortunate that the FAA has been an impediment to getting controllers and pilots together more frequently to discuss situations like this. Far too controllers (this 20-year vet included) understand what goes on behind the stick.

    I’m not sure a lot of pilots fully comprehend what happens in the radar room either. Further, being a terminal controller for my entire career, I do not have more than a basic understanding of what goes on in the center environment.

    I have worked at two places with extensive military operations: Syracuse, with 20 F16s and Tucson with jeez, 80-some at last count not to mention the A10s and C130s at Davis-Monthan AFB.

    Not to paint with a broad brush and no offense intended to the sacrifice our men and women in uniform give, but I have seen this type of hot-dogging behavior before.

    I remember when the Boys from Syracuse came back from Gulf War I. They flew their airplanes much differently than before, rapid climbs and descents, much more use of the AB, etc. – what I would consider hot-dogging it, in the Top Gun fashion.

    The Tucson squad is a training squad, so you don’t see it as much, but I have witnessed F16 drivers “locking onto” civilian targets there more than once. Most recently, here at Albany, we had a flight of F16s on a VFR, not talking to ATC, drive right over Albany, through the final and dangerously close to a Northwest DC9. It was apparent to me that they purposely flew close to the DC9 and hopefully they got a little more than a wrist slap for it. The problem is, the behavior is almost condoned or laughed off.

    As far as the MOA is concerned, I’ve worked airspace that abuts MOAs my entire career. I have had countless pilots ask if such-and-such MOA was active and I’ve always reached out to the controller responsible for the MOA to get the answer. I know the center controllers are very good about rerouting IFR traffic to make sure they do not enter active MOAs.

    There is certainly a problem with VFR flights. I think one of your readers hit the nail on the head with the comment that the pilot probably went VFR because he or she did not want to fly around the MOA.

    I have had countless pilots cancel IFR because their route of flight takes them around New York TRACON’s airspace and out of the way of the jets descending into JFK, LGA and EWR. Not smart, IMO but I cannot tell them not to! We can suggest, recommend, etc. but he or she is still the PIC.

    I’ve seen it done in very questionable, marginal weather as well. I understand it’s a bit different from the MOA situation, but still and all it’s a dangerous situation that I see every week, sometimes several times a week.

    Anyhow, thanks for the blog and I hope it continues to spur discussion. I think it’s everyone’s responsibility here – the pilot to know or ask, the controller to advise or suggest and the F16 driver to see and avoid, not hot-dog it to place someone in potential harms way.

    Best,

    Tony Yushinsky

  10. Robert Mark Says:

    I thought this guy was flying just beneath an MOA and that the F-16 jocky essentially caused a TCAS RA that the pilot ended up following that led him into the PCA. Maybe I missed something.

    Since a TCAS RA takes precedent over anything else – I believe – what should the pilot have done? If he ignored the TCAS alert he ran the risk of a collision from where he sat, but when he yanked back on the wheel, the airplane jumped in to the MOA.

    Seems like the guy wanted to stay out of the MOA for sure. But this looks like a Catch 22 to me.

  11. Don Brown Says:

    I think he was *in* the MOA, Rob, just under the PCA. IOW, the MOA was hot (I don’t know the altitudes of the MOA but I assume it was hot below FL180) so he could go through it VFR but he can’t get into the PCA under VFR rules. So, ATC wouldn’t give him an IFR clearance to fly through the MOA and he went VFR. The TCAS RA tells him to climb which puts him into the PCA without a IFR clearance. Under the circumstances, that wouldn’t be the over-riding consideration.

    I understand the training pilots are given in regards to TCAS. But TCAS is still a “dumb” machine. I don’t believe the software logic recognizes the PCA. I feel almost certain it doesn’t recognize when the parent aircraft is being intercepted by an F-16. As I stated before, I’m very uncomfortablee with all the holes in the TCAS program. (There are other holes besides these two.)

    The biggest hole is the lack of response time. The pilot has what — 30 seconds to respond to an RA ? It’s hard to think in that amount of time (which is the reason pilots are taught to react to it instead of thinking about it) much less to analyze the situation, come up with a plan and implement it.

    The pilot didn’t have any good options as far as I can tell. His previous decisions (VFR flight, in an MOA, just under the PCA) had already put him in a box.

    Two more comments:

    1) I don’t know of a way the military can intercept another aircraft without setting off TCAS. Except of course, by turning off their transponder which causes other problems.

    2) The aircraft involved in the mid-airs over Uberlingen and Brazil all had TCAS. It’s an ugly truth that many just don’t want to face — the “cure” may be worse than the “disease”. We can argue about it but TCAS is definately not a cure *all*. I know that pilots and the Air Traffic Service Providers aren’t going to turn the system off. But training that teaches pilots to turn their brains off and “don’t question the machine” — IMHO — is the height of folly. It simply supplants the judgment of pilots with that of computer programmers and mathematicians. And as you pilot types like to remind us, they won’t be arriving at the scene of the accident with you.

    Don Brown
    http://gettheflick.blogspot.com/

  12. Jonathan Heckman Says:

    I have seen / read about incidents like this before. Military zones are clearly marked on all TAC charts (I assume they are for IFR charts). It’s risky to be flying into these zones, no doubt, especially when active. This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen a executive jets / props have been caught in this situation. I agree that the ATC should have notified the pilots about the zone. That, to me, is inexcusable, but who knows how much traffic he had to handle that day. These days, Air Traffic Control is becoming a highly understaffed job in aviation.

  13. Ron Says:

    I fly a lot of high performance aerobatics in a south Orange County (Calif.) area known as the Blockhouse.

    There is no MOA for us, and we often have climb and descent rates which exceed 15,000 fpm. Consider: an Extra 300 pulling into a vertical upline at 180 knots TAS is traveling straight up at 18,228 fpm.

    We’re out there with minimal fuel flying very high performance maneuvers while trying to teach students. I’ve seen as much as +10G on the accelerometer, and as low as -6G. Inverted flat spins. Tumbles. Rolling turns. So I’m quite familiar with the sort of high performance maneuvers which make it hard to watch for other traffic.

    MOAs are *joint-use* airspace. Military and civilian pilots have equal rights to fly in it regardless of whether it’s hot. Controllers and pilots on all sides would do well to remember that.

    Those who say non-military pilots should simply “always stay well clear” of an active MOA irk me because it ignores many practical matters regarding this special use airspace.

    First, what if I’m trying to get to Inyokern, Tehachapi, or Kern Vally airports, all of which lie in the middle of the Isabella MOA? You literally cannot get there without flyign through a MOA.

    Half the high desert airports around my neck of the woods are in the middle of MOAs. Pull out a sectional and look at them.

    Second, what if weather dictates a deviation which takes me through a MOA? I’ve encountered this scenario several times. I’m ferrying a Pitts S-2B which has a 23 gallon fuel tank and burns ~13 gph. Should I deviate another 75 nm out of the way to go around it? Many of these MOAs are in hot, high desert areas here in the southwest, and often thunderstorms, terrain, fuel, turbulence, wind, or other factors come into play, depending on the aircraft in question.

    Finally, if the activity is dangerous enough to non-participating aircraft (a gunnery range, etc.), it should be a restricted area.

    Having said that, I don’t take flying into a MOA lightly. I know there are high performance military aircraft out there doing their thing. I know budgets are tight, their flying time is minimal, and I don’t want to be the cause of their having to break off some training exercise simply because I was in the way. But keep in mind, the airspace is JOINT-USE and we do have a right to be there.

    –Ron

  14. The House of Rapp » MOA Flying Says:

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  15. Ace Says:

    Joint-use: use it when the military is NOT, and then we’re all safe. Military jets need training – they are vital to this country’s security. Sorry, but that takes precedence over GA traffic in my book. When it’s cold, use it, when it’s hot, stay clear. You may be legal, but you may not be making the smartest piloting decision.

    There was a 727 that had the same type situation occur back when tcas first came out. He was in a Warning area, and a fighter came up underneath and behind him and dogged him for several minutes. The 727’s tcas went ballistic and he climbed and descended several times, scaring the crap out of the passengers and pilots. In that case, the military pilot shouldn’t have done what he did, as a 727 is easy to recognize as a friend. Pilot education was lacking and in this case, appears to be also.

    Personally, I wouldn’t wait for the FAA or anyone else to make MOA’s safer – look at the recent JFK runway incusrion as an example. Just because the perpendicular operation was legal, didn’t make it safe, and that’s been proven 2x in a week.

  16. Ron Says:

    Ace: an interesting definition of “joint-use”. I’ve don’t recall seeing that interpretation before. I’d be more inclined to call that “single use”: only one class of user at a time.

  17. Robert Mark Says:

    In a private e-mail, someone else mentioned that the MOAs in ZBQ’s airspace all have floors around 11-12,000 ft so you’re both probably right on that the Premier driver was inside the MOA.

    Come to think of this though after hearing the recording again, Don’s points reminded me that if the Beech driver saw the F-16, he was relieved of the need to climb for TCAS, unless he still thought he was in imminent danger.

    Ron’s and Ace’s point are also pretty important. Joint-Use sort of takes on a new meaning here.

    Waiting for the Feds to tell us that something legal is also unsafe probably is a waste of time.

    I’m curious too Mr. Brown. What other holes are there in TCAS that you know about?

  18. Don Brown Says:

    “Im curious too Mr. Brown. What other holes are there in TCAS that you know about?”

    Pilots vectoring themselves (the wrong way to boot) with TCAS. EuroControl had a really good safety bulletin out about it.

    VFR at a cardinal altitude +500ft going through a holding pattern.

    An airliner at FL310 dodging an 80 kt. VFR with a bad transponder (default readout is FL305).

    Military formation where only the lead ship has his transponder on. Don’t think just fighters — think of a line of C130’s descending into Pope and only the lead and the tail are squawking. The lead’s at 13,300 and the “tail” is at FL212.

    Single pilot flying and his first instinct is to dip his head into the cockpit looking at TCAS (TCAD, Skywatch, whatever) instead of getting his eyes out the window.

    On a more subtle note, think about how many controllers out there don’t apply merging target procedures because they always get that bored/bothered reply, “We’ve got him on TCAS.” The overlooked factor in calling traffic is that it makes a controller *look* for traffic.

    There are others and there will always be that one we didn’t think of.

    Again, the important part to remember is how compressed the time frame is. From warning to decision time is seconds.

  19. Elaine Says:

    Rob,

    There are some points that I don’t think have been revealed in the discussion up to now.

    1) Had the Premier and the Pilatus pilots been in contact with ATC prior to entering the MOA?

    2) If so, had it been made clear to the pilots what were the altitudes of the MOA, and the types of military activity to be expected in the area (i.e. high-performance aircraft making rapid course and altitude changes)?

    3) What facility were the GA pilots communicating with, while complaining about the MOA tactics? Was it the same facility that was controlling the MOA? It was evidently not the same sector controller as the one controlling the MOA. Make no mistake; there _was_ a controller who was able to talk to the MOA user. Sometimes MOAs overlap more than one sector, so it’s not unexpected that the controller on the tape said that he wasn’t talking to the F-16, but _someone_ was.

    4) What were the active altitudes of the MOA? By definition, MOAs are below Alpha airspace (previously known as Positive Control Airspace or PCA), although sometimes/frequently include collocated Air Traffic Control Assigned Airspace (ATCAA, with the same horizontal boundaries extending into Alpha airspace).

    5) We don’t know from the video the starting altitude of the Premier, but we can make an assumption or two. Responding to a TCAS RA and so quickly entering Alpha airspace puts him probably not lower than 16500, and quite possibly at 17500. Not an unusual altitude at all for a MOA. Again, the pilot should have known the delegated airspace was there, whether by reference to a sectional, or by communicating with ATC prior to encountering the space. I constantly get calls from VFR pilots who don’t even want en-route monitoring, but just want to know if the airspace they see ahead on their charts is active that day.

    6) Perhaps the F16 driver was too aggressive. Don Brown makes a good point, though, that those folks are not hired for their social skills. The AOPA narrator makes it a point in his first sentence that the Premier and the Pilatus were _legally_ flying in the MOA. Legally, yes, but wisely, not so much. It was, in the end, the F16’s sandbox, and any GA pilots who either stumble into or knowingly enter a MOA should expect to encounter aircraft who are using that delegated airspace to carry out their mission.

    Bottom line, no sympathy for the GA pilots in that situation.

  20. Rob Mark Says:

    Elaine. Thanks for your comment too.

    You had me right up to … “It was, in the end, the F16s sandbox, and any GA pilots who either stumble into or knowingly enter a MOA should expect to encounter aircraft who are using that delegated airspace to carry out their mission. Bottom line, no sympathy for the GA pilots in that situation.”

    I thought all MOAs were joint-use airspace making them everyone’s sandbox. Honestly, I wouldn’t take my airplane anywhere close to an active MOA, but legally, I’m not sure about this.

    Mike Collins from AOPA has arranged a call tomorrow for us to get the hard facts that we do know about the incident, because the tape leaves things a bit vague.

    Let’s see what they have to say.

  21. Elaine Says:

    Joint-use, yes, meaning when military is not using it, you can use it. It’s not sterilized airspace, as a Prohibited area would be.

    Look, as a controller, I don’t want pilots having the stuffing scared out of them. So, I make sure I tell the VFR pilot at 17500 that he’s about to enter a MOA, active from 8000-FL220 (collocated with an ATCAA), and what sort of traffic he can expect to encounter. Then he can make an informed decision.

    On the other hand, I can’t force VFR pilots to call me for information about the airspace they’re flying through. At the risk of sounding overly callous, if the first call is the VFR pilot screaming that he’s got F16s swarming all over him, I’ll help him figure out a way out of his predicament, but I’m discounting the indignance factor.

    I’ll be really interested in reading how your AOPA contact fills in the blanks.

  22. Rob Mark Says:

    Just got off the phone with an AOPA source. There is no doubt that both the Pilatus and the Premier were inside the Gladden MOA at the time they were approached by the F-16.

    The top of the MOA is said to be FL 180 so both the Premier which started out at 16,500 and the F-16 were near the boundary.

    The Pilatus was at a relatively low altitude around 9-10,000 feet.

    I was able to find an Air Force manual AFI-202 The Flight Rules for the USAF – that clearly shows the F-16 pilot violated some of the service’s own guidelines, like remaining at least 500 feet away from other aircraft.

    However, that doesn’t excuse anything on the civil pilot’s side either.

    You’ll notice in the recording that the Pilatus pilot came up on frequency requesting advisories from the controller. That didn’t happen until AFTER the F-16 had stopped by to say hi.

    As someone else also pointed out earlier, a MOA is not run by the military. It is joint use airspace designed to keep the fighters clear of IFR traffic. The AIM also clearly says, “Pilots operating under VFR should exercise extreme caution while flying within a MOA when military activity is being conducted.”

    In this case, the Galdden MOA is run by AF intercept controllers at Luke AFB.

    As a point of clarity, normal air traffic controllers try to keep airplanes apart while intercept officers specifically teach pilot how to pick out targets by getting up close and personal with them.

    An interesting point I learned today is that the Luke AFB intercept controllers apparently have no coordination lines with FAA controllers which would have made telling the Air Force folks about the civil aircraft transiting the area impossible.

    Both pilots were goofy here and I hope that both of them realize that although that may not be the case.

    Maybe the civil airplanes should have done a number of things here, but in joint use airspace, everyone should at least be able to talk to each other … even if they don’t all do it.

    There was an important element of coordination that was missing, and apparently still is. Luckily no one died this time around.

    But operations within MOAs is anything but clear to an awful lot of people.

  23. Jeff Martin Says:

    Elaine says “Make no mistake; there _was_ a controller who was able to talk to the MOA user.” Not true. Many times MOAs are “fighter control.” Simply a place for the pilots to “play” in. No controllers involved. The center (FAA) controller may know what type of aircraft are using it, but not necessarily what they are doing. The average civil pilot type will be uncomfortable with a proximity to other aircraft that an f-16 pilot would yawn about.

  24. Elaine Says:

    OK, so, if there are MOAs where no FAA controller can talk to the pilots, then that needs to be fixed.

    There have been MOAs/ATCAAs in or adjacent to every chunk of airspace I’ve worked for 24+ years. An FAA controller works the participating aircraft from their departure point to the MOA, then gives clearance to enter and use the MOA within a given set of altitudes, typically specified in a Letter of Agreement between the controlling agency (FAA) and the using agency (typically a military training unit). EVERY MOA clearance in my experience includes a change to a discrete frequency, apart from my normal sector frequency, for the pilot to monitor while in the area. My transmitter for that frequency routinely remains unselected, so that my chatter with the other pilots in my airspace does not distract them from their mission. The pilots are instructed to return to the main sector frequency for clearance back out of the MOA.

    While they’re in the area, maybe they have ground-based intercept controllers working them; sometimes AWACS is talking to them; sometimes it’s just a flight of two playing dogfight games, and talking just between themselves. I do not direct their maneuvers, nor do I care what they do, so long as they remain in their delegated chunk of airspace. IFR traffic is kept clear of the area, either by vectoring around it, or being assigned a different altitude than those delegated to the MOA. VFR traffic approaching the MOA is advised of the MOA activity, and if the pilot requests it, I will suggest a routing or altitude change to remain clear of the MOA.

    All the while, I have the _ability_ to talk to the pilots using the MOA. Every time a MOA gets used in my sector, I can talk to that pilot while he’s in there. If a VFR pilot elects to transit the active MOA, or if radar indicates an aircraft who has chosen to transit the MOA without the benefit of communicating with ATC, I will select that discrete frequency and advise the MOA user that he has company. His actions at that point are up to him.

    As far as the controller on the tape saying that he was not talking to the MOA user – entirely possible. MOAs will routinely overlap two or more sectors. Only one sector controller, in my experience, clears the pilots into or out of the MOA, and only that controller has access to the discrete frequency the MOA user is monitoring while in the area. That controller should have at least been able to talk to the controller who had the ear of the MOA user. Whether his workload was such that he had the time to do so is not clear on this tape.

    If, as Mr. Martin suggests, there are situations where pilots enter MOAs and then are incommunicado from any controller working airspace surrounding that MOA, then those are, in fact, dangerous situations, and ones that needs to be remedied.

  25. Ace Says:

    In my case, when I clear the fighters into my MOA, I tell them “change to tactical frequency approved, monitor guard”. They are busy talking to each other about their dogfight scenarios, so they don’t want to stay on my freq, listening to 1-sided transmissions to all of the VHF aircraft I’m working; and at the same time, they would be making my life hell, if I had to listen to their back-and-forth communications. I can reach them on uniform guard if I have to talk to them for some reason. They are cleared into the moa by someone, so they HAVE to be able to commnunicate with someone in charge of activating the moa.

  26. Elaine Says:

    Exactly so, Ace. Guard freq (243.0) would be a good alternative, so I guess that makes me fortunate in that for each MOA I control, there is a discrete freq, apart from guard, for the MOA users to monitor in the area.

  27. Rob Mark Says:

    Is this entire MOA issue similar in a sense to the crossing runway debate going on elsewhere?

    It is a necessary – yet legal – evil but one that can turn ugly in a heartbeat?

    Certainly we can’t simply take more airspace and give it entirely to the military because there are airplanes that fly low that depend upon the ability to get through the airspace to their destination.

    I wouldn’t myself, but I’m not the only pilot involved.

    Correct me if I’m wrong here folks, but if an IFR aircraft said they wanted to go through the MOA, you as a controller can only recommend, not demand that they avoid the airspace.

    And taking this a step further, how in the heck are we going to safely allow UAVs in civil airspace when this MOA procedure seems like a mess when the people part gets screwed up?

  28. Elaine Says:

    IFR through a MOA??? Absolutely not. Not when it’s my plug in the jack at the sector.

    Rob, there is no way at all for me to guarantee an IFR aircraft that it will remain separated from other traffic in that MOA, when the other traffic is making rapid course and altitude changes without prompting or clearance from me. I’m responsible for separation. I won’t allow it.

    Are there compromises that can be made? Sure. Often I can buy back 1000 feet from the top or bottom of the block (using that discrete freq or guard that was mentioned), and the military can still accomplish their mission. I can get the next sector to allow wrong altitude for direction and send the GA over the top of the MOA, with the tradeoff that the GA guy has to wait 10 or 15 extra miles before starting descent because the MOA is in the way. Lots of ways to skin that cat. Is it harder when adverse weather is about? Sure, but then again, you talk to the guys in the MOA and let them know about your situation, and try to strike a balance. Is it CAVU? Then the military is less inclined to compromise.

    The world is not solid MOAs that are all active all the time. There is plenty of airspace that is available around, over and under MOAs during the usually short duration they are active.

    And don’t get me started on UAVs. I’m sure Don Brown has a treatise ready to go on that subject.

  29. Ace Says:

    “Correct me if Im wrong here folks, but if an IFR aircraft said they wanted to go through the MOA, you as a controller can only recommend, not demand that they avoid the airspace.”

    You’re wrong. Non-participating aircraft are not allowed inside an MOA when it is active, unless some form of separation from ATC will insure the aircraft stay safely apart. That may mean capping the MOA at a lower/higher altitude. If the pilot refuses an ATC clearance to stay out of it, he must either declare an emergency, or expect a FSDO person to be waiting for him at the arrival airport. I’ve never had an IFR aircraft refuse a turn to avoid active special use airspace.

  30. Navy_F18_Non_Socialite Says:

    I’ve just read this entire thread and being one of the chosen few, not for my social skills, but for my flying ability, I will say this comes up quite often in military aviation. The controllers and GA pilots who’ve commented here are correct, MOA’s are joint use airspace, but lets not forget what they are intended for. If we just said anyone can go in there anytime you want, why would we need a MOA to begin with, the intent is to separate Civil and military traffic, it is called a MILITARY OPERATING AREA. Sounds to me like everyone had a hand in this, the F-16’s could have been proving a point, but I seriously doubt it. In all my years as a fighter pilot, I never pointed my jet at a civil aircraft with the intent to harass them, and I don’t know many bro’s who do. They could have been conducting intercepts and thought they were their intended targets, it happens. And seriously, if the GA pilot knew it was a Viper intercepting him, and if he saw him, a little over acting on his part, IMO. I operate in the area the Extra 300 guy was talking about, we are aware of the civil traffic in there and we avoid them, sometimes they even ask us to fly close to them, but I don’t because I know some thread like this will pop up somewhere. Our controllers (Joshua) do a great job of keeping us all honest. And to the Tucson controller who thinks all we do is hot dog, remember our job is to fight things in the air, push our aircraft to the limits and drop death on things from above, all while putting our lives on the line, that’s the plain truth, so yeah, we manuever our aircraft more then a commercial jet liner, but it’s not all hot dogging just to hot dog.

    So what’s the point to all this: Everyone out there had a job to do that day, lets take a step back and see what can be done better. ATC is your friend, don’t blow off their “recommendations” and if you do, don’t whine about it later.

    When I’m done hot dogging around MOA’s and pissing off civilians, I will probably fly commercial airliners, so don’t think the military turns a blind eye to this sort of thing. We all play in the same sandbox, just know where and when you should be playing.

    See you in the air, hopefully without a RA!

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