Flight Operations at the Air Force Academy

Image of cadets on the runway with Piper Super Cub in the background

Flight Operations at the Air Force Academy
The U. S. Air Force Academy is committed to being a good neighbor. The support of El Paso County, the City of Colorado Springs and the surrounding communities is vital to the success of our mission. The Academy minimizes the impact on our neighbors while safely accomplishing our flying training mission. The following information provides an understanding of the Academy's flying operations. It's intended to facilitate an appreciation for how, where, when and why we fly. A FAQs page answers the most frequently asked questions concerning our operating airspace and its impact on our surrounding community.

Safety is the No. 1 priority for Academy leaders, instructors and cadets. Our Airmanship programs have the best safety record in Air Education and Training Command and our instructor pilots have thousands of flying hours of experience.

Flight Training and the USAFA Mission
The Academy is one of four military academies in the U.S. Every year, approximately 1,000 cadets graduate and are commissioned as lieutenants in the Air Force to lead our Airmen in defense of our national interests. To prepare them for this immense task, these men and women undergo four years of intense academic, military and physical training. As part of that mission, the Academy's Airmanship programs expose, motivate and challenge cadets to become successful leaders in the world's greatest Air Force. The Airmanship Programs include soaring, parachuting and powered flight and expose cadets to the rigors and fundamentals of flying. These programs provide the foundation for the personal and professional discipline required to succeed as an Air Force aviator, a path approximately half our cadets pursue after graduation. The 306th Flying Training Group, under the 12th Flying Training Wing, headquartered at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, provides management and oversight of the Academy's Airmanship programs and is the primary source for Undergraduate Pilot Training instructor pilot production.

Compatible Land Use and Encroachment
There was very little development surrounding the Academy in 1954, when Colorado Springs was selected for its location. Urban growth between 1980-2000 brought businesses and residential neighborhoods closer to the Academy’s borders and continues today, especially just east of the airfield in the Interquest area east of Interstate 25, near the intersection of Interquest and Voyager parkways. Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 77 standards were established to ensure the safety of air navigation and prevent physical encroachment that precludes normal flight operations. While not all buildings exceeding these standards constitutes a hazard to flight operations by themselves, the cumulative impact of each new development exceeding these standards increases the risk to the Academy's pilot training mission.

For any proposed development in the vicinity of the Academy airfield (within 100:1 height slope out to 20,000 feet from airfield centerline), Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 77 requires that the Federal Aviation Administration review the development for safety of air navigation.  The process must begin at least 45 days prior to initiating any construction by the project proponent (e.g. developer) by going to https://oeaaa.faa.gov/oeaaa/external/portal.jsp. Instructions for how to determine if a full aeronautical study is required are on the main page.

The Academy continues to inform the City, developers, and other real estate and building entities, about its flying mission, inform them of the potential safety and noise concerns, and work to de-conflict any developments that may pose adverse impact on the community. The support of the City of Colorado Springs and surrounding communities is vital to the success of the U.S. Air Force Academy. We seek to partner with all stakeholders in the local community to ensure the Academy can continue accomplishing its mission while minimizing the impact to the surrounding community. view maps

Flight Operations
Powered Flight operations began at the Academy Airfield in 1974 and saw only small changes in flight paths until 2012. However, increasing regional demand for use of the airspace along the Front Range of Colorado gradually rendered our airspace structure increasingly at odds with other airspace users, notably Federal Aviation Administration-controlled traffic arriving and departing from regional and major airports in Denver and Colorado Springs. By 2012, airspace conflicts had reached a level warranting a complete redesign of USAFA's airspace structure to ensure safe separation between Air Force flight operations and other regional flight operations. In response to this changing landscape, a working group was established that included Air Force and FAA representatives. This group coordinated and developed the safest possible approaches, departures, training areas and flight patterns for USAFA operations. Decisions from the working group were implemented in early 2013. The redesigned pattern and corresponding departure/arrival corridors resulted in a greater concentration of flight training activity over neighborhoods that had not previously been exposed to a high volume of air traffic.

The redesigned pattern is more standardized, predictable, and in line with Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT). This predictability and standardization reduces the overall risk of Air Force flight training at the U.S. Air Force Academy while increasing the collective safety for our civilian neighbors living in the vicinity of the airfield.

In an effort to reduce the impact to the community, north flow departure to northeastern training areas were rerouted northbound over I-25 before turning east over Baptist Road in June of 2014. Additionally, Bullseye Auxiliary Airfield near Ellicott, Colorado was reestablished, significantly reducing the volume of aircraft flying multiple patterns at the Academy. View Flightpaths and Training Areas

Air Installation Compatible Use Zone
In 1999 and again in 2005, the U.S. Air Force conducted an Air Installation Compatible Use Zone Study for the U.S. Air Force Academy. The purpose of an AICUZ is to promote and inform compatible land development in areas off base that may be affected by military operations on base (e.g. aircraft noise). One part of an AICUZ study identifies noise contours associated with the specific flight operations of a particular air installation, using a metric called the Day-Night Average A-Weighted Sound Level (DNL), which covers noise levels over a 24-hour period. The recommended land use compatibility for residential development is 65 DNL or below. In areas where noise contours exceed compatibility levels, corresponding development is either discouraged or construction technology measures are recommended to reduce the noise signature.

A noise validation study was conducted in 2015 in order to ensure the noise-specific component of the Academy's 2005 AICUZ study remained valid. It concluded that all noise contours associated with the Academy's flight operations remained confined to Academy property. This does not mean that noise does not go off the installation, but based on the DNL taken from current airfield operations, noise from these operations do not exceed the compatibility land use levels. The 2019 AICUZ study for USAFA has been completed. It is available at the link under the Flight Operations Links module located in the upper right column of this page. 

Noise or Overflight Complaints
The U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs Office manages the Noise Complaint Program. Once a complaint is received, Public Affairs and airfield officials review the information provided for anything out of the ordinary, log the complaint information into a database and provide follow up as necessary. If specific complaint details indicate something out of the ordinary, a thorough investigation ensues. To submit a complaint, please complete the noise complaint form and email it to PA.COMREL2@usafa.edu.  If you are unable to complete the form online, you may call the USAFA Public Affairs Office at (719) 333-7746 and leave a detailed message. Please include the time, date, location, direction of flight, and description of aircraft (color, markings, etc.)