Chicago Class B extensions raise concerns

May 25, 2010

The FAA has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend the boundaries of the Chicago Class B airspace to contain aircraft arriving and departing from O’Hare International Airport.

The proposal would establish two new airspace extensions, to the east and west of the current airspace, with floors of 4,000 feet. AOPA is concerned that these extensions would leave too little space for general aviation traffic.

AOPA has participated on the redesign of Chicago’s airspace since it began in 2007. The FAA has adopted some of the recommendations and alternatives that have been presented by local pilots and aviation groups, including the recommendation to reduce the lateral dimensions of area ‘E’ to mitigate the impact to aircraft operating east of Chicago over Lake Michigan. Overall, the majority of the Chicago Class B airspace will be contained within the current 25-nautical-mile footprint.

In a 2008 letter to the FAA, AOPA suggested an alternative to the proposed 4,000-foot floor over the area that would alter Air Route Traffic Control Center boundaries in order to keep arriving aircraft at or above 5,000 feet. The FAA did not adopt this recommendation and is still proposing Class B airspace at 4,000 feet in the expanded area ‘F’; the association will submit formal comments on the proposal and encourages pilots to submit their own.

“The expansion and lowering of the Class B airspace in area ‘F’ would unnecessarily compress general aviation, and operations at outlying airports would be negatively impacted,” said AOPA Manager of Air Traffic Services Tom Kramer. “Establishing a 5,000-foot floor instead would safely contain aircraft on approach and still allow VFR traffic to transition beneath the airspace.”

The Chicago proposal is one of 15 Class B airspace redesigns the FAA is undertaking this year to better contain traffic at busy airports. The notice of proposed rulemaking is the last opportunity to provide input on the proposed redesign before a final rule is issued. Comments will be accepted on or before July 13 and may be submitted online for docket No. FAA-2010-0347.