By Kristopher Hanson
LONG BEACH – A federal proposal to tighten aviation rules for small planes around Long Beach Airport is being met with mixed reviews, with some residents concerned it may encourage pilots to use less restricted spaces over cities and neighborhoods surrounding Long Beach.
The plan, released in recent weeks by the Federal Aviation Administration, would essentially designate the air above Long Beach and portions of neighboring cities “Class C” airspace, requiring all pilots to make contact with a regional air traffic control center near San Diego.
As it now stands, only large commercial jets are required to make contact with the center, known as the Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility.
Flight instructor Rand Sterrett, left, and commercial pilot student Arnold Pelekelo pull a Piper Arrow to the taxiway before heading out to do pattern work at Long Beach Flying Club on Oct. 20 at Long Beach Airport. (Jeff Gritchen / Staff Photographer)
Under the new rules, all pilots would be required to contact TRACON and obtain permission before flying into the area.
The impact could be significant.
Through September, the FAA has reported 188,075 smaller aircraft, helicopters, medical air taxis and other general aviation operations at Long Beach Airport, said airport spokeswoman Kerry Gerot.
An operation is defined as a take-off or landing.
The airspace above Long Beach is now designated Class D, a less restrictive level allowing most pilots to fly in using visual cues and speaking directly with Long Beach’s control tower.
Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman, said Long Beach is the only airport of 89 in the country serving more than 1 million passengers annually without surrounding Class C or Class B airspace.
Class B is even more restrictive and is the designation for most large airports, such as Los Angeles International or New York’s La Guardia.
“The way it is now, commercial aircraft coming into or leaving Long Beach are essentially flying through uncontrolled airspace,” Gregor said. “By improving controls, you improve safety for both large commercial jets and smaller general aviation.”
Gregor said air traffic controllers at the San Diego TRACON could handle the increased communication.
“We have the resources and the manpower, so it’s not an issue,” Gregor said.
However, some small aircraft pilots and homeowners believe if the rule is enacted, pilots may avoid the restricted airspace and fly over cities not currently popular with most pilots.
Those areas include many above densely populated neighborhoods north, west and east of Long Beach.
Led by the city of Palos Verdes Estates, a coalition of South Bay communities contacted the FAA about what they said could be “unintended consequences” arising from the proposal, including increased noise and pollution.
In a report, the coalition stated “a greater number of general aviation aircraft would avoid the Class C airspace altogether and opt to fly along the entire Palos Verdes coastline and over neighborhoods in Redondo Beach, Torrance, Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills, San Pedro, Lomita and Rancho Palos Verdes.”
The coalition also cited environmental impacts from turboprop and piston-powered aircraft, which still use leaded fuel.
But they concede it’s an improvement from a 2010 FAA proposal to create a much broader Class C space above Long Beach and stretching far off the coast, where flight training and practicing is routine.
“We believe … that concerns identified during the 2010 process have been adequately mitigated in the current 2011 LGB Class C proposal,” said Palos Verdes Estates Mayor William John Rea.
Pilot and flight instructor Cody Pierce, who operates out of Aces High Aviation in Long Beach, believes the change wouldn’t hinder business or disrupt training.
“Changing Long Beach to a Class C airspace would only have minor effects on our daily operations,” Pierce said. “At most it would add a few radio transmissions at the beginning and end of each flight. Our instructors, pilots and students shouldn’t have any issues adapting to the additional procedures.”
Pierce noted that communication between pilots and TRACON takes “about 20 seconds of additional communications to receive a transponder code, and any further departure or arrival instructions,” Pierce said. “Any proficient pilot shouldn’t have any issue doing this with ease. And in turn, radar services are provided which will increase safety and traffic separation.”
Pierce said pilots not comfortable with Class C operations could receive a couple hours of instruction to become comfortable with the new procedures.
The FAA is urging interested pilots to attend public hearings Tuesday and Wednesday, where FAA officials will take comments.
If the agency decides to move forward, a notice of “proposed rulemaking” will be listed in the National Registry. Any changes wouldn’t take effect until early 2013 at the earliest, Gregor said.
Interested parties are urged to submit comments by Dec. 11 to John Warner, Operations Support Group, Western Service Center, Federal Aviation Administration, 1601 Lind Ave. SW, Renton, WA 98057.
Source: Contra Costa Times