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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Clear as Mud?

Earlier this year I attended a FAASTeam seminar regarding the new airspace requirements in the New York exclusion areas. It was held at Flying W Airport (N14) in Lumberton, N.J. There were approximately 200 pilots in attendance, mostly fixed-wing, with a hand full of helicopter pilots who fly in the New York area.

The presenter reviewed the changes but when faced with questions about the new rules and some of the new problems that could be present, he really did not have a command knowledge of the subject. This created much confusion on just how the airspace is to be managed. In some cases it raises more questions and creates more confusion.

What I did get out of it is there is much more to know than just altitude restrictions. These new requirements, which went into effect in November 2009, stem from14 CFR part 71 and 93. This Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) is designed to enhance flight safety. Let’s look at the specifics of flying through that area.

When flying south in the corridor, the entrance point is at the “Alpine Tower” in New Jersey, just north of the George Washington bridge (GWB) and it ends at the Verrazano-Narrows bridge (VB). It is the opposite when flying north. The mandatory reporting points are Goldman Sacks, The Intrepid, GWB, Alpine Tower, Verrazano-Narrows bridge, and the Statue of Liberty. Standardized language is also a requirement. Acronyms are used instead of the phonetic alphabet. The use of the term “The Lady” is no longer used for describing the Statue of Liberty. If you have a GPS, it would be a good idea to program the coordinates of Alpine Tower. Maximum speed is 140 knots and position lights are required to be on. All aircraft are required to self-announce on 123.05 for Hudson River Exclusion with type aircraft, position, direction of flight, and altitude. The transponder should be set at 1200. The FAA also recommends reviewing the airspace changes on its website and even test to review these changes.

Once in the corridor, you cannot exit it until the GWB and VB. All traffic must go north or south only and follow the shorelines. There is no passing and no course reversal. For aircraft departing Teterboro and under ATC control they may enter the exclusion along the Hudson at the GWB, not just at the Alpine Tower or VB. Pilots must have a current New York TAC and or New York Helicopter Route Chart.

The lower altitudes—1,000 feet and below—are designed for local helicopter traffic such as sightseeing, electronic newsgathering (ENG), tour operations and law enforcement. The higher altitudes of 1,000-1,300 feet are for transient aircraft.

The Skyline route, which is the airspace above the exclusion, has an altitude from 1,300 feet to 2,000 feet and is in Class B airspace. Pilots must have an ATC clearance and must be in ATC contact. Flying around the Statue of Liberty is restricted to 500 feet and sightseeing operators only, since this airspace presents a particular challenge as it is the most heavily trafficked sightseeing destination in the Hudson River Exclusion and is the southernmost turn-around point for all local helicopter tour routes. This is also the area where many local helicopter tour operators will receive ATC clearance to climb into the Class B airspace for the northbound leg of their tours.

The East River Exclusion is narrower than the Hudson River Exclusion, provides less maneuvering room for fixed-wing aircraft and “dead-ends” just west of LaGuardia. So for fixed-wing aircraft, if you are not under ATC control and intend to fly in Class B airspace, stay out.

There was a helicopter pilot in attendance who flies in the New York area on a daily basis. He stated that many fixed-wing pilots are still transitioning through the area and are not abiding by the new requirements. No position reports, no radio calls and are flying under 1000 feet.

I spoke to many of the fixed-wing pilots regarding the changes. They claimed these new requirements are over-reactive based on the longstanding safety record of flight operations in the Hudson River Exclusion. Clearly they don’t understand the elements of risk management. Unfortunately, many of these pilots have more money than common sense. I know from personal experience there are dozens of near-misses in the New York area airspace. In my opinion, if you don’t need to fly there, don’t. Since fixed-wing aircraft are still allowed to enter the exclusion along the Hudson under ATC control, there is still the potential for a collision with southbound traffic like the one that took place in September.

I’ve stated in earlier articles that I supported the FAA recommendations to enhance safety. It is a form of risk management. But if pilots do not follow these rules are we no better off than before?

Once again, we must look at pilot responsibility when preparing to fly in the New York airspace. Are you going to ensure you have and review the correct maps to follow these new procedures? The “bottom line up front” for you former military pilots, means you must continue to have “situational awareness” and continually scan to see and avoid. Fly Safe.

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