Long Beach Airport Class C Proposal

FAA Mulls New Rules For Airport Airspace Control
To potentially increase the safety of the airspace in Long Beach, the Federal Aviation Administration is considering changing the air traffic control classification of Long Beach Airport. “Operations at and around LGB (Long Beach Airport) are safe now, but we’re always evaluating procedures all over the country to see if there’s any way to increase the safety margin,” Ian Gregor, FAA spokesman, wrote in an e-mail.

The FAA is seeking public comment regarding the proposed change that would establish Class C airspace around LGB.

Currently, LGB is within Class D airspace. Gregor said Long Beach Airport is the only airport in the United States that served at least one million passengers in 2008 but is not in Class B or C airspace.

“The goal of the proposed redesign is to better protect all aircraft arriving or departing LGB,” he said. “With Class C airspace, air traffic controllers would know exactly which aircraft are in the airspace and where they are heading.”

Gregor said the FAA began reviewing Long Beach’s airspace in 2003 after an increase in airline pilot reports of traffic conflict warnings.

Long Beach Airport Director Mario Rodriguez said the classification change is something that has been batted back and forth for some time. He said it is important for the public to know that the FAA is not considering the change because of a safety issue at LGB, but simply looking into the classification change to determine if it would improve the safety conditions of the airspace.

The classification change would not impact the airport or the airport’s noise ordinance, according to Rodriquez.

“The only thing that would change is the rules and regulations for pilots who come to our airport (or through the airspace above the airport),” he said. “The number of flights here is set.”

A change to Class C would mean the airspace would increase in diameter and pilots, commercial and general, would need to communicate more with air traffic control operators based at an air traffic controller tower near San Diego. Air traffic controllers track planes, advise pilots about air traffic and provide safety alerts.

Gregor said air traffic controllers could expect a marginal increase in workload if the airspace is changed to Class C.

Radio communication with the tower at Long Beach Airport would remain the same since Long Beach’s tower only communicates with pilots taking off or landing.

“We do not expect the proposal would result in increased delays,” Gregor said. “Also, the proposal does not change flight tracks.”

Some general aviation pilots argue the classification change will not decrease the number of traffic conflict warnings, which they said occur regularly from normal traffic conditions at crowded airspaces such as Long Beach.

“This is one of the busiest areas I’ve flown in, and it is very challenging, but it can be done safely with common sense,” said pilot and Long Beach resident Robert Cullinan. “I’m not aware of any planes falling out of the sky… Why fix something that is not broken?”

Cullinan, who has been a pilot for more than 20 years, argues that a classification change would endanger pilots of small planes who might want to avoid talking to air traffic control by flying beneath or around the airspace.

“They are doing something laudable by looking at safety, but more practically what it will do is try to force people to fly around the airspace,” he said.

This, he said, could create bottlenecks and dangerous conditions since pilots might collide or be too low to the ground to avoid a crash if they experience a malfunction.

Jack Kenton, a retired Navy pilot (and CALPILOTS VP of Region 4….Ed) who still practices general aviation and is a member of several aviation associations, agreed that requiring general aviation pilots to have more communication with air traffic control would create traffic problems as pilots try to avoid the airspace.

“There is the sense that okay, I can go over here and I don’t have to talk to the FAA,” he said. “There will be a congestion of airplanes that don’t want to bother talking to the FAA, and we could have midair collisions there.”

Candy Robinson, owner of the Long Beach Flying Club & Flight Academy, said the airspace classification change would put her out of business after more than 30 years in Long Beach.

“It would cause delays because of the restrictions it would put on us and the inability for us to get in and out of the airport on a timely basis,” she said.

Robinson said she would prefer that the FAA look into other alternatives to solve traffic congestion, including a redesign of the Los Angeles basin’s airspace or adding additional frequencies or controllers for Long Beach’s airspace.

“I believe this airspace is going to be more dangerous,” she said. “There’s a lot of other things we can do better or analyze. Changing the classification is not going to fix the problem.”

Before the classification could change, Gregor said notices would be published of the proposed rulemaking, and public comments would be taken before a final rule was adopted. The process is expected to take about 18 months.