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"Long Beach Airport airspace plan relieves South Bay pilots"

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Long Beach Airport airspace plan relieves South Bay pilots
By Melissa Pamer
The Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram

A new proposal to change how aircraft fly in the area surrounding Long Beach
Airport has South Bay aviators relieved that it's much less restrictive than
a federal plan released last year, but they remained concerned.

The tentative plan, made public last month by the Federal Aviation
Administration, is intended to reduce the risk of midair collisions between
small aircraft and jetliners over densely populated areas.

In the extremely complicated and congested Southern California urban
airspace, where there are plenty of private general aviation pilots as well
as commercial jets, FAA efforts to make changes have raised hackles in the
past. Changes to Long Beach Airport's airspace have been discussed for

The latest plan for the airport is much scaled back from last year's, in
large part because the agency saw such an outcry from South Bay pilots and
local municipalities worried about safety and increased air traffic over
residential neighborhoods.

"We don't operate in a vacuum. We don't develop a proposal and solicit
public comment and hold public hearings just to go through the motions," FAA
spokesman Ian Gregor said. "We made some pretty significant changes to the
proposal. ... It's really a very different proposal."

At issue is a move to create Class C airspace around Long Beach Airport, a
designation that requires pilots to make two-way communication with a
regional air traffic control facility in San Diego. Now, pilots can fly
through much of the proposed Class C area using only visual cues.

Gregor repeated an often-cited fact in this debate: that Long Beach is the
only airport of 89 in the continental United States that serves more than 1
million passengers without surrounding Class C or Class B airspace, which is
even more restrictive.

"It think it's pretty obvious that it's much better to have controlled
airspace around a commercial airport than to have a situation where
commercial aircraft have to fly through essentially uncontrolled airspace
for a while," Gregor said.

He said the proposal was part of an ongoing effort by the agency to be more
"proactive" and identify future problems.

Is proposal needed?

But local pilots have questioned the agency's motivation, noting no near
midair collisions with large jets, and saying they've yet to see data
supporting claims of an increased number of alerts on anti-collision warning

At an informational meeting last week hosted by the Torrance Airport
Association, more than three dozen aviators met to question the plan and ask
whether it's needed.

"Is it really that dangerous out there?" one asked. "We've got a solution
here looking for a problem."

Others called the change a "Band-Aid," saying a broad overhaul of Southern
California airspace as a whole is needed.

On its website, the national Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said it
views the new plan as "a quick fix that should be incorporated into a full
review of the airspace needs of all of Southern California."

Gregor confirmed that the FAA is "looking at a broader review" of regional
airspace, but he said that would not result in the "cancellation of existing
airspace proposals."

There was some relief at the Wednesday night meeting, held at Torrance
Airport, that the 2010 proposal had been abandoned, though.

"Many people said: 'Holy smoke, that's a big piece of the sky,'" said Barry
Jay, president of the association.

Keeping eye on safety

A widely used flight training area over the harbors will see much less
conflict with the new Class C area, and that means novice pilots won't be
pushed into another training area that runs along the Palos Verdes Peninsula

Rancho Palos Verdes officials have taken a particular interest in the plan
because of concerns about aircraft noise and the safety of new pilots who
might need to make emergency landings on inhospitable ground along the
city's coast.

The municipality alerted other South Bay cities to the FAA proposal last
year, hiring an aviation consultant and leading criticism of the plan. The
Rancho Palos Verdes City Council received a update on the new plan last

"We believe that the new proposal is safer for aircraft flight and should
mitigate our concerns about increased aircraft noise in and around the South
Bay area, especially the Palos Verdes Peninsula," said Dennis McLean, the
city's finance director and a former airline official.

But the new plan doesn't follow visual landmarks that would make it easier
for pilots to navigate. And there are lingering concerns about traffic
conflicts in a corridor over Western Avenue leading to and from practice
flight areas.

Pilots also are worried because the FAA does not plan to add air traffic
controllers in San Diego. They say they won't get a response, or will be
brushed off when trying to establish two-way contact before entering the
Class C airspace.

Gregor said the agency has studied the issue and is confident there are
sufficient controllers in San Diego to handle more calls from the Long Beach

Don Stewart, a Rancho Palos Verdes pilot who last year alerted officials in
the city to the FAA proposal, said he sees a major improvement in the
revised plan.

"The new proposal is 80 percent better than before. A lot of the traffic
that was going to be going over the Peninsula is going to be reduced,"
Stewart said. "They did pretty good. It's an improvement but it's not

Later this month, the FAA will host two public meetings in Long Beach on its
proposal. Public comments will be accepted through Dec. 12.

If the agency decides to move forward, it will begin with a "notice of
proposed rulemaking," beginning a process of at least 18 months.

Find out more

What: The FAA will hold two informal meetings on proposed changes to
restricted airspace around Long Beach Airport.

When: 6-9 p.m. Oct. 25 and 26

Where: Holiday Inn Long Beach Airport, 2640 N. Lakewood Blvd., Long Beach.

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