Wednesday, September 02, 2009

FAA plans to restructure New York City airspace and operating rules

by B.N. Sullivan

FAA logoBack in mid-August, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) convened a New York Airspace Working Group to review current operating procedures over the Hudson and East Rivers and recommend safety improvements. Today FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt announced that the task force had developed a comprehensive series of recommendations that the FAA plans to implement immediately.

According to the FAA, the new 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.

One change under consideration is to divide the airspace into altitude corridors that separate aircraft flying over the river from those operating to and from local heliports or seaplane bases. This new exclusionary zone would be comprised of three components:
  • It would 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, it would require aircraft to operate in the Class B airspace under visual flight rules but under positive air traffic control, and to communicate on the appropriate air traffic frequency.
  • Between 1,000-1,300 feet, it would require aircraft using VFR to use a common radio frequency for the Hudson River. Aircraft operating below 1,000 feet would use the same radio frequency.
Pilots will be required to use specific radio frequencies for the Hudson River and the East River. Under the proposed new rules, operating speeds will be set at 140 knots or less, pilots will be required to turn on anti-collision devices, position or navigation equipment and landing lights. Pilots also will be required to announce when they enter the area and to report their aircraft description, location, direction and altitude.

The practice of flying along the west shore of the river when southbound and along the east shore when northbound will become mandatory. In addition, the FAA will require that pilots have charts available and be familiar with the airspace rules.

From the FAA press release announcing the proposed changes:
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 that will replace existing charts. The 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.
“These steps will significantly enhance safety in this busy area and create crystal-clear rules for all of the pilots who operate there,” said Babbitt.