Navigable airspace

I’m not sure why I’m surprised by this, but it turns out the Department of Defense’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has a collection of terminal instrument procedures for Baghdad International, among other airfields in that part of the world. A surprisingly large number of these airports have TACAN approaches — TACAN being a particularly military type of navigational aid (and a temporary one, at that). “The security situation,” DoD says, “is such that the only radio navigational aid in Iraq that has been flight inspected for civil use is the Baghdad VOR. All current radio navigational aids are temporary military assets.” The moral is, apparently, “get a GPS and hope your airport of choice has a published GPS approach.” Or, alternatively, “don’t fly in Iraq. Still.”

If you poke around the site for a little while, you get a little disappointed at how, uh, blandly repetitive some of the documents are. The planning file for Iraq, for instance, does not contain any information labeled “DANGER: DO NOT FLY HERE UNDER PENALTY OF AMRAAM,” nor does it say “LANDINGS AT THIS AIRPORT AT OWN RISK” or even “YOU MUST HAVE PERMISSION FROM CENTCOM OR SOMEBODY SPECIAL TO FLY HERE.” Instead, the most prohibitive it gets is a warning that you can’t fly VFR in Iraq if you’re not military; you have to file and fly IFR if you’re going to be operating commercial or civil (!) aircraft in the country. Somehow, I doubt Iraq’s GA lobby is going to be too bent out of shape over this. (Does Iraq even have a general aviation constituency?)

To get that kind of warning, you have to visit the Regional Air Movement Coordination Center that deals with the airspace in and around both Afghanistan and Iraq. And there, they come right out and tell you: “All operators are warned that there are ongoing military operations in Iraq and non-military flight operations could be at significant risk. There are continuing reports of indiscriminate missile and small arms attacks on aircraft operating in Iraq. Operators undertake flights within the BAGHDAD FIR at their own risk.” The RAMCC publishes their own airspace information guide, which is a 229-page guide that is at once ridiculously dull and hilariously frightening. I think the funniest thing you’ll find in the guide is a requirement to sign and file a waiver form before operating aircraft in Iraq, forever releasing a whole host of agencies of liability should one of Moqtada’s boys shove a SAM up your exhaust pipe. It’s kind of interesting, actually, that the RAMCC exists at all — DoD came up with the idea during that whole Balkan thing to coordinate aircraft movement in a small area, and then to provide interm guidance and stability while the involved countries rebuilt their air navigation capabilities. ATS might seem like a fairly trivial kind of infrastructure, but it’s still important, and one that no one seems to think about.

(Also, I learned that Iraq’s aviation authority is called the General Establishment of Civil Aviation. How cool izzat? Great name, guys.)

Also of note — unrelated to this, but still fun to read — is the official participants guide for the US Antarctic Program, most of which will be redundant if you’ve spent any sort of quality time over at Big Dead Place.