A F/A-18D crashed in Beaufort County on Thursday, March 3rd, 2022, near Halfmoon Island and the Coosaw Plantation. Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort said in a statement that “there were no fatalities as a result of the crash” and that “both Marines onboard the jet safely ejected with no injuries and are in stable condition.” It is no coincidence that this aircraft crashed in an area with a small civilian population–in fact, this is a result of a Department of Defense (DoD) initiative that has been ongoing since the 1970s.
The DoD saw the need for an Air Installation Compatible Land Use Zones (AICUZ) program to meet both the growing need for aircraft missions and operations and protect the communities that house them. The goal of AICUZ is to “promote the health, safety, and welfare of persons on or near air installations by minimizing aviation noise and safety impacts without degrading air installation safety and mission requirements.” These programs define both high noise zones and accident potential zones (APZs) which identify those areas that have the highest probability of an accident occurring that is associated with flight operations. Local governments are encouraged to steer development clear of these areas and in some cases, even create larger buffers through land use controls and other mechanisms.
Compatible Land Use is a priority for the DoD and is even used as a tool for determining where it will place new missions. Incompatible Land Use between military installations and communities is a growing challenge for the DoD and it “reports that it faces growing challenges in carrying out realistic training at installations and training ranges due to outside influences that inhibit military training and testing, which DOD refers to as encroachment.”
MCAS Beaufort, Beaufort County, and neighboring governments have been successfully working together to incorporate the current AICUZ program into their day-to-day activities to promote Compatible Land Use for quite some time. In fact, this collaboration was a big reason why MCAS Beaufort was selected to host the F-35 mission several years ago.
Aircraft mishaps are always a risk and will continue to happen. The goal of the MEC, local government and the community should be to minimize the impacts when those mishaps do occur. This can be done through a deliberate focus on ensuring compatible development occurs adjacent to the military installations now and into the future.