March 23, 2011

Citing “safety and national security concerns,” the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on March 20 issued a Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) and a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) prohibiting U.S. civilian flights over Libya. The order was an emergency “direct-to-final” rule, issued without a comment period.

The NOTAM was effective immediately, but the SFAR did not take effect until March 23, when it was published in the Federal Register according to David Catey, an aviation safety inspector at FAA headquarters. SFARs are used to define requirements that are not included in existing regulations.

Both documents prohibit flights in the Libya Flight Information Region (FIR) by U.S. air carriers, U.S. commercial operators and operators of U.S.-registered civil aircraft or anyone flying on a U.S. airman certificate unless operating as a foreign air carrier.

“An armed conflict is ongoing in Libya and presents a potential hazard to civil aviation,” read the emergency SFAR, which is the 112th special rule issued by the FAA. Specific hazards listed in the SFAR included damaged pavement on runways at Libya’s international airports at Benghazi and Tripoli and possible loss of air navigation services.

The SFAR also warns of “the proliferation of air defense weapons, including Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) and the presence of military operations including Libyan aerial bombardments and unplanned military flights entering and departing (Libyan airspace), which pose a hazard to U.S. operators, U.S.-registered aircraft and FAA-certificated airmen that (sic) might operate within the [airspace].

Of special concern are the MANPADS, which fire shoulder-launched missiles capable of reaching aircraft as high as Flight Level 200. They are sold on the black market for a few hundred dollars for older models to nearly a quarter million dollars for newer, more capable models.

“Besides MANPADS, Colonel Kaddafi has an extensive arsenal of weapons,” said Catey. “He has anti-aircraft weapons that fire projectiles, surface-to-air missiles, and of course his armed forces are equipped with rifles and machine guns. Some of the machine guns are large caliber and could be used as anti-aircraft weapons.”

In the regulatory analysis for the SFAR, there was acknowledgment of “some costs” associated with issuance of the emergency rule, but read that “…the FAA expects that few, if any, operators subject to this SFAR are actually operating [over Libya] given the current state of affairs. Accordingly, the costs of this SFAR would be minimal.”

The new SFAR allows exceptions for U.S. government departments or agencies that make a special request to the FAA based on “a critical need to engage any person covered under SFAR 112, 91.1603(a)” to transport civilian or military passengers or cargo.

SFAR 112 has an effective period of three years, but text in the document noted that the FAA could amend, rescind or extend the SFAR as necessary.

Review a copy of the SFAR.