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FAA Announces Practical Plan to Enhance Safety in New York Airspace

September 3, 2009 — The FAA announced Wednesday a plan to revise flight procedures over the Hudson River to create “safe, dedicated operating corridors” for all the aircraft that fly at lower altitudes around Manhattan. The action, based on findings by the New York Airspace Task Force, a working group representing a cross-section of aviation stakeholders, of is in response to the crash in early August between a sightseeing helicopter and a Piper PA32 that claimed nine lives.

 “These steps will significantly enhance safety in this busy area and create crystal-clear rules for all of the pilots who operate there,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. The FAA stated it did not use the NTSB recommendations put forth on August 27, but claims its proposed actions meet or exceed the NTSB's recommendations.

The safety enhancements would restructure the airspace, mandate pilot operating rules, create a new entry point into the Hudson River airspace from Teterboro, standardize New York area charts, and develop new training for pilots, air traffic controllers, and businesses that operate helicopters and aircraft in the area.

On Wednesday EAA and AOPA held a briefing on Capitol Hill with House aviation subcommittee staff members regarding the FAA’s proposed changes.  “These are safety-driven recommendations, not politically driven,” said Doug Macnair. “The GA community embraces the working group and FAA’s recommendations in their entirety. This is not a menu of options, but rather a group of solutions that taken holistically make flying in this area significantly safer and more efficient.”

One of the most significant changes, if adopted, would divide the airspace into altitude corridors that separate aircraft flying over the river from those operating to and from local heliports or seaplane bases.

Specifically, this new exclusionary zone would be comprised of three components:

  • Establish a uniform “floor” for the Class B airspace over the Hudson River at 1,300 feet, which would also serve as the “ceiling” for the exclusionary zone.
  • Between 1,300-2,000 feet - aircraft would be required to operate in the Class B airspace under VFR but under positive air traffic control, communicating on the appropriate air traffic frequency.
  • Between 1,000-1,300 feet, aircraft using VFR required to use a common radio frequency for the Hudson River. Aircraft operating below 1,000 feet would use the same radio frequency.

In addition, new pilot operating practices would require pilots to use specific radio frequencies for the Hudson River and the East River; would set speeds at 140 knots or less; and would require pilots to turn on anti-collision devices, position or navigation equipment and landing lights. Pilots would also be required to announce when they enter the area and to report their aircraft description, location, direction, and altitude.

Existing common practices that take pilots along the west shore of the river when they are southbound and along the east shore when they are northbound would become mandatory. Pilots would also be required to have charts available and to be familiar with the airspace rules.

The FAA also intends to propose standardized procedures for fixed-wing aircraft leaving Teterboro to enter the Class B airspace over the Hudson River or the exclusionary zone. If an aircraft plans to enter the Class B airspace, Teterboro controllers would request approval from Newark before the aircraft takes off and be authorized to climb the aircraft to 1,500 feet. Aircraft that want to enter the VFR exclusionary zone would be directed by a special route over the George Washington Bridge.

The FAA expects to complete and publish any changes in time to have them in effect by November 19, so that they can be incorporated on new, standardized aeronautical charts. Those new charts will highlight the Class B VFR corridor, encouraging more pilots to exercise the option to fly over the Hudson River under air traffic control, instead of entering the congested exclusionary zone.

Finally, the FAA intends to develop training programs specifically tailored for pilots, air traffic controllers, and fixed-base operators to increase awareness of the options available in the Hudson River airspace, and better develop plans that enhance safety for the intended flight.

“We have reinforced how important it is to follow the recommended procedures and maintain professional conduct until we put the new mandatory measures in place,’’ Babbitt said. “These new safety steps incorporate the collective experience of pilots who fly in that airspace as well as our own air traffic controllers and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. We all want the skies over New York to be as safe as they can be.”

Some members of Congress have demanded closure of the VFR flyway in New York while others have called for new equipment requirements for aircraft transiting or operating in the airspace around Manhattan.  The New York Airspace working group carefully examined these proposals and found that each would either not improve safety or could in fact have the opposite effect.

“EAA is working hard to communicate with key decision makers on the Hill and help them understand why the recommendations proposed by the airspace working group and subsequently adopted by the FAA are the right way to go to improve safety in the airspace above the Hudson River and elsewhere around Manhattan,” Macnair said. “The recommendations are not based on ulterior motives such as business considerations, noise issues, or any other politically motivated matters, but rather, go straight to the heart of operational safety considerations involving airspace design, air traffic and communications procedures, pilot education, operating rules and charting.

“We strongly believe that full implementation of these recommendations by FAA and the aviation community at large will have a positive impact on aviation safety in the New York metropolitan area.”

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