Friday, October 13, 2006

 

Flight Restrictions Over the East River

In the wake of the "high-rise plane crash" (a phrase I hear during every commercial break in New York), the FAA is now requiring all fixed-wing aircraft to be in contact with air traffic controllers when flying over the East River.

Such information is distributed to pilots in a Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM. Here's what one looks like:

!FDC 6/3495 ZNY EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE, VFR FLIGHT OPERATIONS INVOLVING FIXED WING AIRCRAFT (EXCLUDING AMPHIBIOUS FIXED WING AIRCRAFT LANDING OR DEPARTING NEW YORK SKYPORTS INC SEAPLANE BASE) IN THE EAST RIVER CLASS B EXCLUSION AREA EXTENDING FROM THE SOUTHWESTERN TIP OF GOVERNORS ISLAND TO THE NORTH TIP OF ROOSEVELT ISLAND, ARE PROHIBITED UNLESS AUTHORIZED AND BEING CONTROLLED BY ATC. TO OBTAIN AUTHORIZATION CONTACT LGA ATCT SOUTH OF GOVERNORS ISLAND ON 126.05.

It is my hope that the FAA will discover lower-case characters someday.

Non-fixed-wing aircraft (in other words, helicopters) are still allowed to fly in the area without ATC contact, as are departing or arriving seaplanes. This makes sense: controllers would be overwhelmed if they had to keep track of all the helicopter flights in the area.

For those of you who are surprised to find out that pilots commonly fly around without filing flight plans or talking to controllers, I recommend my Flight Plans and Control Towers post.

I was in a Manhattan office building at the time of the crash. This office has a lot of televisions around, so we were all kept informed. While initial reports were coming in, one of the guys in a cubicle near me started explaining aviation technicalities ("visual flight rules", "VFR corridors", etc.). I added a couple of explanations myself, and so we identified one another as pilots. He's a student pilot, hoping to have his checkride later this month. We talked about the complicated airspace around New York, and swapped some flying stories.

I was a little surprised that none of the news outlets have mentioned the weather as a potential factor. When the newscasters first mentioned that the plane was flying under visual flight rules, I looked out the window and noticed how misty it was outside. I checked the local weather on the web, and visibility was reported as six miles. That's not terrible, but it's not ideal. I don't think it was a factor, but I expected the media to advance some uninformed theories about it.


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