"Air Cruiser One-Two-Two-Four, Santa Barbara Approach, radar service terminated, contact San Luis Obispo Tower, remain this squawk," is relatively new terminology heard by pilots at San Luis County Regional Airport. What's new about it? For one thing the radar service termination altitude — which is the altitude that Santa Barbara Terminal Radar Approach Control (tracon) can maintain radar contact — is lower than it used to be before the Standard Terminal Automation Radar System (STARS) was put in service last November. But it's only the beginning. By the time you read this, the ASR-11 fully integrated digital radar transmitter/receiver situated on land in the northwest corner of the Santa Maria Public/Captain G. Allan Hancock Field should be certified. This will further improve the ability of Santa Barbara Tracon controllers to handle traffic at Central Coast airports.
When the Santa Maria ASR-11 is on line, controllers will be able to see traffic around the Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Oceano County, Lompoc, and Santa Ynez airports better, and will be able to apply terminal traffic separation standards — reduced to three miles between individual airplanes instead of the five-mile separation that is required now. This will allow controllers to safely pack more operations within the same airspace.
There also is an ASR-11 transmitter/receiver presently turning on land near the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport. Expected to be on line by the end of April, this system will permit radar coverage down to 85 feet above the airport and will eliminate existing low-altitude blind spots in the Santa Barbara area.
The march toward this point was reported in the July 2002 and the July 2005 issues of AOPA Pilot in the "California Flying" section. The pieces described in those articles finally are being brought on line. Minimum vectoring altitudes that will be lower by 500 to 700 feet mean that flight following services and weather information for both controllers and the pilots will improve. Delays for IFR pilots flying into and out of Central Coast airports will be a thing of the past.
Tower en route control (TEC) routes are IFR routes that are administered and controlled by tracons. These routes fly beneath the en route structure. At present, the web of these routes in southern California extends as far north as the Santa Barbara airport, as far south as General Abelardo L. Rodriquez International Airport in Tijuana, Mexico, and as far east as Palmdale Regional and Palm Springs International airports.
All TEC route identifiers and the routings are published. When a pilot in Santa Barbara wants to file for an IFR flight to Brown Field Municipal Airport near San Diego he merely calls the Santa Barbara Tower and requests "SDAM24." The pilot then flies the prescribed routing for that trip — KWANG CMA VNY V186 V363 V23 MZB — at the prescribed altitude of 5,000 feet msl. TEC routes expedite IFR flights.
The existing TEC system is slated for expansion and the revision in April. Application has been made to include the airports up to and including the San Luis Obispo airport. These airports may not make this revision, but as both ASR-11 sites get up and running, and as the tracon controllers who operate the new systems get trained in their operation, it's a cinch that TEC routes will be available for Central Coast pilots before too much time passes.
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Links to additional information about the Santa Barbara Tracon may be found on AOPA Online.