This week, the Torrance City Council directed that helicopters in-bound and out-bound from the airport climb to or descend from 1400 AGL, through the fixed-wing traffic patterns (at 1000 AGL) when landing at the airport (see articles from the Daily Breeze). Torrance helicopter operators had previously agreed to fly at 600 AGL within the class D airspace to avoid the faster fixed wing traffic, but a few residents have complained about the helicopters flying over their houses and the City Council blindly blundered into the realm of air traffic control. Their Airport Commission unanimously recommended against this move. For a map of the helicopter routes, check http://www.taainfo.org. (See update at the end of this article)
As you know, helicopters (especially R22s) are very difficult to see from the air. Removing altitude separation from the air safety equation means pilots must rely only on the control tower advisories and see-and-avoid rules to prevent collisions. The failure of these methods were graphically demonstrated in a fatal mid-air collision of two helicopters at our airport on 11/6/2003 (a clear day)–over the runways and less than 1/4 mile from the control tower! Add to that the fact that Torrance is a training tower and that most pilots based here have received at least one tower direction that would have resulted in mishap had he followed it. Surely, anyone can understand the concern.
There has been no notice to pilots based at or using the airport. We believe this to be a serious safety breech. Because of my concern, I have decided to refuse to use the south runway–it is less than 1/4 mile from the helicopter route and the south traffic pattern crosses the areas where the helicopters will be climbing and descending through the pattern. Just about every Torrance pilot I have talked to agrees.
Robinson Helicopter is located on the airport and opposes this usurping of FAA authority to control airborne activities, but the city can and will bring pressure to force compliance from them and other helicopter operators on the field unless the FAA steps in.
Jim Gates – Torrance Airport
The Torrance City Council essentially voted to use what was agreed to by a Helicopter Noise Commission and it then was rejected by an Airport Commission. This is a Leter Of Agreement (LOA) which is, in the end, an agreement between the FAA’s ATCT and the operators.
Jack Kenton – CALPILOTS Region 4 VP