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FAA shrinks Class E surface area around Sitka

Earlier this year, a member reached out to AOPA and inquired about the expanded size of the Class E surface area that extends to the north and west of Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport in Southeast Alaska.

The issue was that the dimensions of this airspace, reaching over 25 nautical miles from the airport, caused a potential problem for VFR traffic approaching from the northwest. In that area, especially if ceilings are low, pilots are often not yet within radio range to obtain the airport’s weather observation, which may be quite different from conditions 20 miles out. While they may be flying in legal VFR conditions, pilots can find themselves at odds with the FAA regulations, not yet knowing if they may need a clearance to enter the airspace if the airport is reporting less than VFR conditions.

AOPA reached out to the FAA’s western flight procedures team; explained the problem this posed for VFR operators, especially in marginal weather conditions that are not uncommon in Southeast Alaska; and asked them to re-examine the need for this airspace. After review, the FAA found that it could make some minor adjustments to the instrument procedures without impacting IFR operations, and agreed to reduce the size of the surface area. The revised area is significantly shortened, as of the September 8 chart revision, shown above.

Jim McClay, AOPA director of airspace, air traffic, and security, is pleased with the result: “We thank the FAA for reviewing and making these changes in support of pilots operating under visual flight rules in this beautiful, but at times challenging, part of Alaska.”

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