Class C airspace over Long Beach not justified

July 22, 2010

The Los Angeles area contains some of the most complex and congested airspace in the country. Establishing new controlled airspace in the midst of it may harm, not help, flight safety in the area, the FAA said in a 1991 Federal Register notice.  Nearly 20 years later, the FAA is again attempting to establish Class C airspace to improve safety. 

The agency is proposing to change Long Beach/Daugherty Field’s Class D airspace to Class C. Under the proposal, general aviation traffic would be forced into narrower passages to remain clear of the new airspace, decreasing safety in the area, AOPA told the agency in formal comments. The FAA withdrew a similar plan in 1991, saying that the Los Angeles Basin is so complex and congested that a review of the entire metroplex was needed.  AOPA reminded the agency of its earlier decision and urged it to review the Los Angeles basin as a whole instead of evaluating the Long Beach airspace in isolation.

After reviewing air traffic data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), AOPA found that the only recurring safety issues identified all stemmed from Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) alerts between two aircraft operating under ATC control—something that Class D airspace should already prevent. The reclassification from Class D to Class C airspace at Long Beach will not enhance safety or mitigate the TCAS alerts that are being used as the justification for the airspace change, AOPA shared in comments.

“The establishment of additional, non-standard controlled airspace would increase the complexity of the airspace and cause a decrease in overall safety for the entire area,” wrote AOPA Manager of Air Traffic Services Tom Kramer. “Pilots will be forced to spend even more time ‘heads-down’ in the cockpit trying to ensure that they remain clear of controlled airspace, are communicating on the right frequency, and are on course to their destination.”

The FAA acknowledged the need to look at the area as a whole in 1991 when it withdrew a proposal to establish an airport radar service area, a precursor to today’s Class C airspace, over Long Beach.

“Without question, the Los Angeles Basin airspace is more complex and congested than it was in 1991,” AOPA wrote. “Rather than address the issue in isolation, AOPA recommends that the FAA follow the advice they delivered in 1991 and take a comprehensive approach to the entire Los Angeles area. The airspace over Los Angeles is so complex that a solution cannot be successful without taking the entire airspace into account.”

Multiple organizations and pilots groups, including the California Pilots Association, have submitted comments to the FAA regarding the proposal.  AOPA encourages pilots to submit their own formal, written comments. The deadline is July 31, and comments are accepted in hard copy, in triplicate. They should be addressed to Clark Desing, Operations Support Group, AJV-W2, Western Service Area, Air Traffic Organization, Federal Aviation Administration, 1601 Lind Avenue, SW, Renton, WA 98057.