What are Military Operation Areas (MOAs)?
MOAs are a type of “Special Use Airspace” (SUA) designated for military training and maneuvers. The designation provides for a “segregation of uses of airspace” to alert other aircraft that military activity may be occurring, although as with Military Training Routes Below, MOAs are open to other aircraft when they are not being used for military training. MOAs are assigned to one military base for use and scheduling but may also be used by many units from different bases, when requested and available.
What are Military Training Routes (MTRs)?
A MTR is an aerial corridor in a region of the United States in which military aircraft can operate below 10,000 feet and faster than the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation of a maximum safe speed of 250 knots per hour. Military aircraft are supposed to be limited to 420 knots but may not exceed Mach 1 (the speed of sound). MTRs may be classified as instrument routes (IR), visual routes (VR), or slow routes (SR). These routes may also be flown by private and commercial aircraft. The routes are operated through a local military air base, which “owns” and schedules the route. However, any military base may request use of the route.
How do MOAs and MTRs affect the Gila National Forest?
The Gila National Forest is bisected by several military training routes, most notably, low-level route VR-176 and slow route SR 211/210. Because a MTR allows for 5-15 miles on either side, the flight corridor may be 30 miles wide over the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas which lie below these routes. Several towns on the perimeter and within the forest are also within VR-176. In some sections of a low level VR, aircraft may be authorized to fly as low as 100 feet above ground level. Portions of the Gila National Forest and surrounding communities also border on, or are included within, the Smitty/Cato, Reserve, and Morenci MOAs. There is also one recently approved Army Local Flying Area (LFA) for Fort Bliss which extends into the Gila region.
What are the rules for Military Flights over Wilderness areas?
Within any MOA or MTR, the military does not have to adhere to FAA regulations; when a military aircraft is outside of these areas, it is required to follow FAA regulations. FAA regulations mention wilderness areas specifically, but only by requesting that pilots maintain an altitude of 2,000 feet. Some protected areas do have specific federal statutes that protect their airspace; the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness Areas do not.
How would the Air Force’s proposal for Holloman AFB F-16 training affect the area?
One of the alternatives in the Air Force’s proposal for Holloman AFB involves expanding the existing Smitty/Cato MOA to the east and the creation of a new MOA called Lobos directly above the Gila Wilderness and notionally to the west of the Silver City area. (Note: in the proposal, Lobos is not clearly defined; so its location and extent is not yet known.) Read about the proposal here.
How do I know if a plane or overflight should be reported?
The public has limited information on the specific maneuvers, training exercises, and altitude allowances within MOAs or MTRs in the Gila region. That does not mean that the public should not comment or report concerns regarding military aircraft that cause disruptive noise or other type of disturbance. The majority of the Gila National Forest and surrounding area is NOT within any MOA; therefore, it’s important to report all apparent violations. Military aircraft that appear to be low flying over areas within or near the Gila National Forest or wilderness areas should be reported. Aircraft that buzz river corridors, camping areas, archaeological sites, farms, or ranches, should be cause for concern. Any unusual maneuvers or activity or the appearance of smoke of any kind should be reported. In addition, any aircraft that fly over your neighborhood or property that cause animals or wildlife to be unduly frightened by sound or vibration are aircraft that are causing a disturbance and should be reported.