Airport Airspace Changes Prompted by Mid-Air Collision Warnings Come in for Criticism

Looking up at the skies over north Costa Mesa a couple weeks ago produced a most disturbing site: a JetBlue plane making its normal descent into Long Beach Airport was passed maybe 100 feet above by another airliner heading for either LAX or the landing line at John Wayne Airport.

Maybe that's a normal part of Southern California aviation, but from the naked eye the two planes seemed awfully close together.

Having witnessed hundreds of JetBlue planes make the same descent, it seemed from this vantage point that its plane was on the usual path, at the usual elevation, for landings.

Airport Airspace Changes Prompted by Mid-Air Collision Warnings Come in for Criticism

However, your intrepid sky watcher cannot recall another time where a plane going roughly west to northeast was that low to the ground--and that close to another jetliner.

Now comes word that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is concerned about the prospect of midair collisions in this same air corridor.

The FAA is proposing to more than triple the size of restricted airspace around Long Beach Airport. The new Long Beach area would extend east from the 110 Freeway beyond the 605 Freeway, and down past the Long Beach Harbor Area to Huntington Beach, with a northern border at the 91 Freeway.

Changes would also be made to John Wayne airspace under the plan, which would require Long Beach Airport pilots entering the area to contact air traffic controllers in San Diego. Those are the same controllers who handle LAX, Burbank, Ontario and John Wayne.

The proposal is "prompted by an increased number of alerts on anti-collision warning systems," reports the Long Beach Press-Telegram's Melissa Pamer, citing FAA officials. JetBlue Airways is believed to be airline that made the complaints about warning system alerts that led to the FAA proposal, according to Pamer's report.

JetBlue comes in for criticism from a host of plan critics, one of whom accuses the airline of "bullying."

Then there's Candy Robinson, owner of the Long Beach Flying Club flight school and charter company, who tells Pamer she will be put out of business by the change--and she uses John Wayne Airport as evidence.

When the Santa Ana airport's airspace designation was changed about 20 years ago, it went from a vibrant general aviation facility to a site focused on airline traffic, Robinson notes.

"It's all turned into this commercial airport now with G.A. being a subset," Robinson reportedly said. "I'd hate to see that happen to Long Beach. It's a G.A. airport that has airlines, not the other way around."

The reporter talked with several foes who supply a laundry list of complaints:

  • Small aircraft will be forced over the Palos Verdes Peninsula, increasing noise and pollution;
  • Private and student pilots will respond by not responding. That is, they will get around the new airspace by avoiding communication with controllers, increasing safety risks;
  • The restricted airspace will overlap popular flight training areas over the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors, harming trainees out of Torrance, Hawthorne, Compton, Fullerton and Long Beach airports;
  • There are no plans to increase staffing of controllers, despite them having to communicate with more pilots, under the proposal.

Pamer writes the California Pilots Association and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association have stated opposition to the proposed change, saying a broader reconsideration of the Los Angeles area's extremely complex airspace is warranted, rather than a piecemeal approach.


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