Words of Advice:

"Never Feel Sorry For Anyone Who Owns an Airplane."-- Tina Marie

If Something Seems To Be Too Good To Be True, It's Best To Shoot It, Just In Case." -- Fiona Glenanne

Flying the Airplane is More Important than Radioing Your Plight to a Person on the Ground
Who is Incapable of Understanding or Doing Anything About It.
" -- Unknown

"There seems to be almost no problem that Congress cannot,
by diligent efforts and careful legislative drafting, make ten times worse.
" -- Me

"What the hell is an `Aluminum Falcon'?" -- Emperor Palpatine

"Eck!" -- George the Cat

Friday, December 2, 2011

Phoenix Crash

For this discussion, I need to do a quick airspace lesson. There are several classes of airspace over the U.S. Class A airspace is from 18,000' to 60,000'.* Class B airspace is highly controlled and it is over very busy airports. Class B typically, at the surface, is five to ten miles in radius and start at the ground. As one moves further from the airport, the bottom of the airspace moves up to facilitate operations at smaller outlying airports and the radius expands. Class Be airspace typically terminates at 7,000' over the airport and the airspace has a maximum radius of 20 miles.

If you were to look at Class B airspace in 3-D, it would look like an upside-down wedding cake.

Just over a week ago, an airplane with six people on board crashed into the Superstition Mountains. As the video plays, watch the lover of the two dots, moving from left to right.

The airplane had left Falcon Field. Apparently, it was flying VFR.

Several years ago, the FAA redesigned the Class B over the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Among the features of the FAA's redesign was to lower the floor of the Class B over the Superstition Mountains. At the time, it was pointed out to the FAA that bringing the airspace so low was a recipe for disaster.

The second point, discussed on aviation boards, but not generally noted in the press, is that while aircraft flying by Visual Flight Rules can fly in Class B airspace, they need clearance from air traffic control to enter Class B airspace. The take on the controllers who work the Phoenix Class B is that they are almost uniformly unhelpful to VFR aircraft. That situation would probably be even worse the evening before Thanksgiving, when the crash occurred. That is a very intensive time for ATC and the airlines.

But put the two together and you end up with a crash that was foreseeable years ago.

None of this, of course, takes away from the responsibility of the pilot. Flying low over sketchy terrain at night is a bad idea. It was his duty to plan his flight so that he would remain clear of the ground. So no doubt, the NTSB will pin primary responsibility for the crash on the dead guy.

But have no doubt about this: The FAA bears its share of responsibility for designing its airspace over PHX with very low transit paths for VFR aircraft. Oh, they'll probably fix it, now that six people have died.

Not for nothing is the FAA known as a "tombstone agency".

* Technically, "flight levels" are used above 18,000'. That only matters if you're flying up there.


Frank Van Haste said...

Dear Miss Fit:

Do I recall correctly, that the noted change to the PHX Class B happened during the period when the FAA was saying that the airlines were its "customers"? Those "customers" wanted the GA traffic pushed lower, and they got what they wanted.

The FAR's are written in blood.



LRod said...

Aw, I hate to be pedantic, but technically "Flight Levels" are any altitude based on standard pressure (29.92"). In the Oceanic FIRs (Flight Information Regions), flight levels are commonly used down to as low as 5,000 (Flight Level 50)—maybe lower, but that's the limit of my actual experience.

We don't use Flight Levels below 180 (or 190 when the pressure is below 29.92) in the conterminous US, but they are commonly used elsewhere.

ZJX, ORD, ZAU retired

OldRetiredDude said...

Thats what happens when you have a President who puts industry insiders and political hacks in charge of the very agencies that were in place to regulate THEM! President Shrub did this with almost every government agency...and now we are still dealing with the results. Elections have consequences people! Get off your asses and vote! They call the FAA the Tombstone Agency for a reason! Been there, done that...ORD.

Sarah said...

It's what happens when general aviation is compressed into the airspace underneath the big boys. This does not remove responsibility for the result from the PIC -- godresthisorhersoul - but so it goes.

I live under a class B, and fly nearby. I admit I've stopped trying to negotiate the "bravo", instead flying around the circular airspace.

What's wrong with that? Everyone else is doing the same thing. I have had many "oh, hello" moments spotting traffic at the last minute. A month ago I got a "OH HELLO" moment when a Mooney flew by closer than I've ever seen another power aircraft. It was within 100' and just below me, a "t-bone" angle. There is nothing I could have done but be, as I was, lucky.

I don't know. Maybe I should request flight following and just fly through. Or quit trying to fly under the shelf with everyone else. Too Spooky.