Open Letter to Congressman Issa on NOAA's West Coast Wild Life Airspace Change

Read our letter to California Congressman Issa regarding the NOAA’s – National Marine Sanctuaries unwarranted air space change implemented earlier this year. While we all agree that protecting wild life is a good thing, we disagree with the NOAA’s lack of justification, and NOAA’s threat posture of – guilty until proven innocent – associated with this change. It is unacceptable – period.

November 6, 2012

Honorable Congressman Darrel Issa
2347 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Issa,

I am writing you to follow up on the discussion we had at AOPA Summit in Palm Springs, California on Friday October 19, 2012 regarding the west coast NOAA Marine Sanctuary airspace change implemented in early 2012. I also want to thank you for your time during your public meeting there.

As a reminder, the California Pilots Association is a state wide non-profit volunteer organization whose mission is general aviation advocacy – part of which is the defense of the state’s general aviation airports, as well as state aviator flight privileges/rights.

While we understand the need to protect wildlife, the California Pilots Association has several issues with what the NOAA’s – National Marine Sanctuaries has done, in what we consider as an unnecessary and confusing airspace variations affecting most of the west coast. We question the requirement for such a vast area of flight minimums variations.

I should also add that the Washington Pilots Association (as well as the Oregon Pilots Association) is in agreement with us and is also negatively affected by this unnecessary airspace modification.

First, we believe that the NOAA airspace change is unwarranted – period. We have yet to see any valid justification (actual documented data, not anecdotal) for this massive change even though we specifically asked NOAA in the letter we wrote to both the FAA and the NOAA. As a reminder, for whatever reason, the NOAA ignored our letter (copy attached).

The FAA’s reply to our letter, (copy attached), written by a lower level FAA official who responded that they worked with NOAA and that the instrument approaches are not affected in these areas, and that this airspace change is within the NOAA’s area of responsibility.

We disagree with, and are very disappointed by the FAA’s response. Our original letter states a concern that confusion exists regarding how the (multiple) over the water Instrument Approach Procedures, or Practice Approaches, in these areas can be safely accomplished with NOAA’s – National Marine Sanctuaries arbitrary minimums of 2000′ and 1000′ as measured from an undefined “high water” mark. Please see the map on our original letter where it shows no decent into these areas.

Further, as we discussed at AOPA Summit, we are stunned that the NOAA’s approach to enforcing this airspace modification is by assuming guilt by proximity if an aircraft is “believed to be in violation”. Further, a pilot can receive a violation as a result of someone on the ground, with zero aviation experience, using his/her “perception” of aircraft altitude. This is unacceptable, and the FAA and NOAA’s – National Marine Sanctuaries ought to be embarrassed to publish this type of un-American guilty until proven innocent policy.

We believe that NOAA’s – National Marine Sanctuaries’ guilty until proven innocent threat strategy is due to their inability to police violations which may have occurred in such a vast area – a huge area of enforcement that should never have been implemented.

To demonstrate how confusing this airspace modification has been I am including the verbiage from the NOAA’s – National Marine Sanctuaries Division web site -regarding only the Monterey California area – directly below ( Please note the yellow highlighted text, which states guilt is presumed. Also note the confusing undefined term “high water” in this puzzling explanation/definition.

“Pilots are required to remain above 1000′ AGL whenever flying within any of the four designated restriction zones described below:
1. From mean high water to 3 nautical miles (nmi) offshore between a line extending from Pt. Santa Cruz on a southwesterly bearing of 220° true and a line extending from 2 nmi north of Pescadero Pt. on a southwesterly bearing of 240° true;
2. From mean high water to 3 nmi offshore between a line extending from the Carmel River mouth on a westerly bearing of 270° true and a line extending due west along latitude parallel 35°33.2928’N off of Cambria;
3. From mean high water and within a 5 nmi seaward arc from a center point of 36°48.0774′ N, 121°47.4204′ W (the end of the Moss Landing ocean pier as it appeared on the most current NOAA nautical charts as of January 1, 1993); and
Over the Sanctuary’s jurisdictional waters of Elkhorn Slough east of the Highway One Bridge to Elkhorn Road.

Prohibited or otherwise regulated activities: Disturbing marine mammals or seabirds by flying motorized aircraft, except as necessary for valid law enforcement purposes, at less than 1,000 feet above any of the four zones within the Sanctuary described above. Failure to maintain a minimum altitude of 1,000 feet above ground level above any such zone is presumed to disturb marine mammals or seabirds.”

In summary we request that the following points are formally responded to by NOAA’s – National Marine Sanctuaries, and the FAA.

1. To avoid unnecessary confusion, it is and remains our belief that the FAA must be the only agency controlling U.S. airspace. The volunteer wild life advisory areas, which were in place, were successfully observed and avoided – why change that?

2. NOAA’s – National Marine Sanctuaries never provided justification (factual data, i.e., number of documented violations, areas of violation, time period i.e., at least 5-10 years, etc.) for this massive west coast air space minimums modification, nor were west coast general aviation stakeholders included in the decision process.

3. We believe this airspace modification is a regulation seeking an issue. There are hundreds of pages of existing regulations that aviators need to keep track of. In a time when general aviation is struggling to survive additional complexity of flight is unwarranted, not to mention, in this case, unrequired.

4. The undefined NOAA term “high water mark” is an indicator that no one with actual aviation experience was involved with this decision. Confusion remains regarding the lack of FAA explanation of how Instrument Approach Procedures, and Practice Approaches, are to be flown in the affected areas with these confusing 2000′ and 1000′ minimums variations (please see minimums map attached).

5. In the United States of America – NOAA’s guilty until proven innocent posture is unacceptable. NOAA can do better and needs to remove its threatening regulation language effective immediately.

Based upon our experience, and the feedback we are receiving from others, it is clear that NOAA’s – National Marine Sanctuaries believes it doesn’t have to answer to anyone. Already mired in operational and bureaucratic complexity, aviation does not need additional complexity defined by an overzealous agency unable to provide justification for its actions.

We believe that this NOAA attitude will not change without congressional effort just as it was necessary for the recently passed Pilot Bill of Rights – which was a result of congressional first hand experience with the FAA’s disregard of pilot’s rights.

On behalf of the board, and the state’s pilots, the California Pilots Association thanks you for your leadership and attention to this important aviation matter.


Edward A. Rosiak – President
California Pilots Association
PO Box 6868
San Carlos, CA 94070

cc. Craig Fuller CEO/Chairman AOPA
Jay White – General Counsel California Pilots Association


This article from 2007 also questions the public agencies actions. Read it fo yourself.