Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mid-Air Over the Hudson - Remedial Action

You'll all remember the accident that occurred last August 8th, when a Piper Saratoga and an air-tour helicopter collided in the Hudson River VFR corridor, fatally injuring all nine souls on board the two aircraft. I posted about it HERE, HERE and HERE.

The last of those posts discussed the FAA's proposed remedial actions to improve the safety of aircraft transiting or operating in the corridor. Now, I hold in my hand the recently issued 78th Edition of the New York VFR Terminal Area Chart (TAC). Published by the National Aeronautical Charting Office, it enters into effect at 0901Z tomorrow, 19 November, and it embodies the remedial actions previously discussed. Here's a clip of the affected portion:

A Regulatory Notice on the back of the chart sets out the rules in force in the Special Flight Rules Area. It begins by defining the Hudson River and East River Exclusions (i.e., excluded from the Class B airspace).

For the Hudson, it's essentially that airspace from the surface to 1,300 feet MSL between the banks of the river from the Alpine Tower in the north to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the south. (The East River Exclusion is mainly of interest to local helicopter and seaplane operators.)

The notice then sets out communication requirements. While operating in the exclusion, pilots must monitor the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency and announce aircraft type, position, direction and altitude at (as a minimum) these prominent points:

  • Alpine Tower
  • George Washington Bridge
  • USS Intrepid
  • Goldman Sachs Tower
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Verrazano Narrows Bridge
The notice goes on to specify requirements for aircraft operation. It imposes a maximum speed of 140 KIAS and mandates use of anti-collision lights and position/navigation lights (illumination of landing lights is recommended). Pilots must have the current New York TAC on board and be familiar with its contents.

Aircraft are required to follow the eastern bank of the river when northbound and the western bank when southbound. (Keep Right!) And, aircraft that are not landing or departing the Manhattan heliports or conducting other local operations are required to transit the exclusion at altitudes from 1,000 feet MSL to the Class B floor (i.e., 1,300 feet MSL). The transient VFR pilot thus has a 300 foot altitude band to work with. Interestingly, local operators seem not to be constrained to operate below 1,000 feet MSL.

Adjacent to the Regulatory Notice on the back of the chart is a description of the new VFR Transition Route (referred to as "the Skyline Route"). This route is a VFR "tunnel" through the Class B airspace, not an Exclusion therefrom - so the usual Class B operating rules (14 CFR 91.131) and transponder requirements (14 CFR 215) apply.

The Skyline Route overlies the Hudson River Exclusion from Alpine Tower to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, at altitudes from 1,300 feet to 2,000 feet MSL. The description advises northbound aircraft to contact Newark (EWR) Tower and expect to fly the east bank of the river, and southbound aircraft to contact LaGuardia (LGA) Tower and expect the west bank. The specific transition altitude will be assigned by ATC, and all are advised to "remain clear of the New York Class B until receiving specific ATC approval to enter".

I confess to some surprise that the towers are the primary contacts for the Skyline Route; I'd have expected Approach Control to assume that role. If an approaching aircraft is receiving Flight Following service from New York Approach, will they be handed off to the applicable tower for the Skyline Route transition?

I look forward to giving the Skyline Route a try, probably on one of my Monday morning trips from the DC area up to Bridgeport. I expect that I'll request the route from the first New York Approach sector and then see what develops.

The more interesting experiment will be to take the Skyline Route southbound and then pick up an IFR clearance in the air over New Jersey to facilitate later entry into the Washington Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) and Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), where I live. If that works, it may resolve my ongoing frustration with the "preferred" routing that usually takes me over eastern Pennsylvania.

This will be interesting.


Anonymous said...

So, did you have a chance to try the handoff from approach to the tower for the Skyline route?

Frank Van Haste said...

Dear Eli:

Thanks for reading!

No, 'fraid I haven't had opportunity overlap motivation as yet. Still on my 'to do' list.

When I do it, you can be sure there'll be a blog post about it.