Former NTSB Board Member John Goglia has written a thoughtful and informative article for Forbes. His analysis concludes that the accident which occurred July 7th near Charleston, SC can and should not be repeated.
Clearly an F-16 and a Cessna 150 ordinarily should not be operated in the same airspace. A general aviation basically utility aircraft does not fly and cannot maneuver with the supersonic fighter aircraft. The military and the FAA have created restricted airspaces, called Military Operation Areas (top right), within the airspace in which civil aircraft may fly (far left). The goal is to design boundaries which both pilots can easily identify, but as the bottom left chart shows, the airspace can be complex.
As Member Goglia suggested, there is a safety tool which should analyze the interaction of MOAs with the surrounding airspace.
That is not to say that the services and the FAA have not done their best to configure MOAs in a way which maximizes efficiency of the military mission, which minimizes the controller workload and which addresses safety. Typically these design exercises are a government-to-government discussion. Organizations like AOPA are offered an opportunity to review the architecture after it is drawn.
The FAA is a proponent of Safety Management System as the state-of-the-art methodology for improving safe performance. A Safety Risk Assessment (SRA) would involve the following important elements:
- to determine risks through data analysis,
- to include all of the participants in the arena being reviewed,
- to develop solutions which are created specifically to solve the problem(s) identified and
- to establish a process which will continue to monitor the numbers to determine if further iterations are needed BEFORE accidents may occur.
One aspect has proven to be most impactful is involving a broader spectrum of stakeholders; for example, in SRAs it is not uncommon for a participant, who is not directly involved in a problem, will help identify a new option. Yes, controllers and pilots know best, but maybe a local airport manager can see “outside the box.” Another possible contributor might be a local GA pilot who knows that some of his brother fliers like to cut across a corner of a MOA to save gas or some other local reason.
Member Goglia’s conclusion that this accident raises questions about how this collision should be avoided in the future is correct, even without a full NTSB investigation. SMS would be an appropriate discipline to examine this airspace; perhaps conducting SRAs here and other MOAs could enhance safety.