Fuller testifies on Hudson River Corridor

September 16, 2009

In the wake of last month’s midair collision over New York’s Hudson River, AOPA President Craig  Fuller on Sept. 16 went to Capitol Hill to dispel misunderstandings about the exclusion zone and so-called “uncontrolled” airspace.

Testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's aviation subcommittee, Fuller noted that no airspace in the United States is truly uncontrolled—there are well-defined rules and regulations that govern operations in all of it.

“The rules that govern visual flight, instrument flight, and operations through airspace corridors are established precisely to maximize operational safety,” said Fuller in his prepared remarks. “The rules are taught to all pilots, tested over time, and refined as necessary, as we have recently seen from the process of reviewing and revising the rules for flying in the airspace over the Hudson River in New York.”

During his testimony, Fuller paid tribute to the FAA and its working group convened in the wake of the accident to determine the best ways to enhance safety in the corridor. The FAA has already begun to act on the group’s recommendations, issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on Sept. 16 to create a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) that would codify current best practices: maintaining an indicated airspeed not to exceed 140 knots; turning on lights; and self-announcing position on the appropriate radio. The NPRM would also standardize the ceiling of the SFRA at 1,300 feet and separate transient aircraft from local traffic. Comments on the proposal (Docket Number FAA-2009-0837-0002) can be submitted online and must be received on or before Oct. 16.

The working group also recommended training for pilots, controllers, and fixed base operators. Taking that suggestion seriously, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation developed, and on Sept. 15 presented, a seminar on collision avoidance in the Hudson River corridor. AOPA Air Safety Foundation President Bruce Landsberg presented “ Tight Spots: Collision Avoidance in the Hudson Corridor,” sponsored by AOPA, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, and the FAA. More than 350 pilots attended the seminar, held in a hotel ballroom near Newark Liberty International Airport, not far from the accident site. Another 200 watched a live Internet feed of the seminar.

Landsberg discussed the NTSB’s preliminary accident report, best practices for operating in the Hudson River Class B exclusion zone, proven strategies for steering clear of other aircraft, and what the Hudson River Class B exclusion zone could be like in the future. John Savarese, supervisor at the Newark tower; Jeff Smith, chairman of the Eastern Region Helicopter Counsel (ERHC); and Mike Conti, a local helicopter and fixed wing CFI and corridor pilot, also spoke.

Others testifying before the House subcommittee included NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, who was the on-scene Board member following the collision; Hank Krakowski, head of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, which oversees air traffic control; Matthew Zuccaro, president of the Helicopter Association International; James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association; and Edward Kragh, an air traffic controller based at the tower at Newark Airport.

Fuller explained some of the different types of transition routes through the nation’s busiest airspace that pilots flying under visual flight rules (VFR) use to move safely through the airspace without significantly increasing air traffic controllers’ workloads.

“Hundreds of thousands of safe operations have been conducted year after year in corridors around the nation,” Fuller said. “They represent consistent, long-term evidence that VFR traffic can be safely and efficiently accommodated even in the busiest airspace.”

“At the same time, as the recent Hudson River Corridor Working Group demonstrated, there are opportunities to enhance safety while keeping the airspace open by codifying best practices, improving charting, and making additional training materials available to pilots,” he concluded.