"A Change Is In The Air (Literally)"

Article By Roger M. Morgenthal
he Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has requested the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Bureau of Aviation to facilitate the development of an ad hoc committee to review a possible airspace change around Harrisburg International Airport that would place greater restrictions upon aircraft operating there. Specifically, the airspace would change from its present Class D status surrounded by a Terminal Radar Service Area to Class C. The committee was formally organized at a meeting on March 30, 2010 and will begin its work immediately. Roger M. Morgenthal, Esquire, one of our partners at Smigel, Anderson & Sacks, is a member of that committee.

The committee will hold a series of meetings over the next several months, assisted by FAA experts, to explore the need for the additional restrictions. Assuming that such a need is found, they will formulate detailed recommendations including dimensions, operating procedures and other parameters for the airspace that will be used for the final planning. The Class C Airspace, if implemented, would be unique in the United States in that one of the airports protected by it—Capital City Airport—does not have a 24-hour control tower.

Presently participation by pilots in the Terminal Radar Service Area (TRSA) is highly recommended but voluntary, and a substantial number of nonparticipating airplanes pass through the Harrisburg area at altitudes that present a very significant risk to airline traffic using Harrisburg International Airport. This becomes more dangerous at night when an airplane could legally take off from Capital City Airport after the tower is closed without talking to anyone and fly through the path of aircraft at Harrisburg International. Class C Airspace would change that.

Aircraft may not enter Class C Airspace without establishing two-way radio contact with Approach Control, and they are subject to the directions of the controllers once inside. It provides the benefits of traffic alerts and safety advisories that reduce the risk of mid-air collisions, but deviations from the rules can result in pilots being subjected to enforcement proceedings that could result in severe penalties including loss of flying privileges. Class C Airspace extends from the surface up to 4,000 feet above the airport elevation within a 5 nautical mile radius of the airport and from 1,200 to 4,000 feet between 5 and 10 nautical miles. Harrisburg International would be the center point for measuring the distances.

After the ad hoc committee has completed its work, there will be public hearings open to the public for comments and questions. Following that, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking followed by an additional period of time for written comments about the change will be issued. The goal is to complete the entire process during 2010, but that is subject to modification.

The greatest challenge of any airspace change should not be to pilots who routinely operate around Harrisburg, because they will quickly become accustomed to the new requirements. Rather, it will most likely increase the risk of violations and enforcement actions for pilots passing through the area under visual flight rules who have not done their homework before making the trip. It will be extremely important for them to study the rules for Class C Airspace in the Aeronautical Information Manual and then to become completely familiar with the airspace boundaries as shown on the sectional chart before takeoff.

Smigel, Anderson & Sacks provides a full range of aviation law services to pilots, aircraft owners and businesses. Contact Roger M. Morgenthal at rmorgenthal@sasllp.com with any questions.