FAA Proposes Class D Airspace at LAX

Proposed addition of class D airspace to the class B surface areas

As Andrew Jackson said during his farewell address to the country, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance”. Nowhere is this more true than when dealing with our freedom to fly.

Thankfully we’ve got organizations like AOPA to help monitor the reams of NPRMs and documents issued by the federal government on a daily basis. I say thankfully because as connected as I am to the industry, there’s no way I could keep up with the blizzard of paperwork flying out of Washington. It’s hard to remember how we did it even half as well before the advent of the world wide web.

AOPA recently found a proposed change to the Los Angeles Class B airspace. This change isn’t a physically large one, and it won’t have much if any impact for most pilots. The reason it caught AOPA’s attention is that it telegraphs a significant shift in the way the FAA uses airspace.

The FAA defines the problem by noting that airplanes performing missed approach procedures at LAX sometimes stray outside of the lateral confines of the Class B airspace surface area. They do not explain exactly why this happens. Since published missed approach procedures keep pilots within the confines of protected airspace, one can only assume that controllers are providing radar vectors which take pilots out of the Class Bravo. The only other options I can conceive of would be repetitive faulty airmanship and/or a poorly designed approach procedure, neither of which is likely.

I have a feeling this might really be about the approximate 15 degree offset between the runways at LAX and the alignment of the Bravo surface area corridor which should — but for some reason does not — parallel it.

The solution proposed by the FAA? They want to add small Class D cutouts to the north and south of the surface Bravo airspace:

Proposed addition of class D airspace to the class B surface areas

If you’re confused, welcome to the club. Every pilot learns early on in primary flight training that Class D airspace is always centered around an airport with an operating air traffic control tower. Specifically, an airport too small to receive a Class B or C designation. These designations are based on the number of operations and passengers enplaned and deplaned in a given year. LAX is one of the busiest airports on the planet and is long established as a Class Bravo field. Class D airspace is not designed for the LAXs of the world.

Assuming the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is not in error — and boy would this be a big one — the FAA’s proposal for LAX would establish one of several new precedents. It’s a testament to the confusion this NPRM creates that I cannot even determine which precedent would be set. Either this would mark the first tower-less Class D airspace I’ve ever heard of, or the first time a single air traffic control tower was responsible for two different classes of airspace (B and D) at the same time.

AOPA references to this proposal as a “quick-fix” are a generous assessment in my opinion. The reasons for the change aren’t clear. Why are aircraft leaving the protected airspace during missed approaches at LAX? And if that’s happening, shouldn’t fixing the approach, re-aligning the Bravo surface area or expanding the Class B airspace slightly be the common sense solution?

Even if the FAA is determined to add Class D airspace, they shouldn’t be attaching it to LAX. The LAX tower already coordinates closely with both Santa Monica and Hawthorne towers. Why not just extend the Santa Monica and Hawthorne airspace slightly?

Another head-scratcher from the NPRM:

This action is based on the results of a study conducted by the Los Angeles VFR Task Force, and the Los Angeles Class B Workgroup.

A Google search of those two organizations yielded nada, so I wonder if they’re referring to the Southern California Airspace Users Working Group. If so, it would add a new level of perplexity to the issue, because that organization is comprised of people who actually fly in this airspace and would be the first to see the oddity of the FAA’s proposal.

Again, the practical effect of the changes being proposed by the Feds at LAX are small. That’s not the real problem. The larger issue is the misuse of airspace classification and the confusing precedent it would set. As an long-time instructor, I don’t even know how one would teach something like that to a student. In my experience, students often learn best when they understand the reason behind rules and procedures. Unfortunately, in this case that clarity is sorely lacking.

10 comments

    1. I know, right? Something’s amiss when pilots can’t even envision what it will look like on the chart.

      A dotted blue line with no attached airport would be very confusing. Almost like a Class E surface area printed in the wrong color. Speaking of which, it might really be problematic for color-blind aviators!

  1. When I read about this I assumed that they were increasing the Class D airspace for both Hawthorne and Santa Monica. I didn’t read it as they were adding Class D airspace for LAX. How do you even do that?

    I will say, since I live in Manhattan Beach I do get commercial aircraft flying over our house on occasion, well below the 5k foot Class B floor. I’ve spoken to my friends at Hawthorne tower and they said that LAX traffic will occasionally use their Class D airspace to return back to the runway after a go-around. Lots shorter and quicker than performing the full missed approach procedure.

    1. When I read the NPRM, it definitely says the new airspace is to be Class D, and also says it is to be assigned to Los Angeles International. I didn’t see any mention of Santa Monica or Hawthorne, althought you’re correct in noting that it would make the most sense to add to their existing Delta airspace.

      I’ve got a student whose wife is a veteran LAX tower controller, and she tells some unbelievable stories about the FAA putting people just out of initial training at Oklahoma City into the tower there. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. Of course, anything I hear in that regard comes to me third hand, so take it for what it’s worth.

      If they just align the Bravo surface area with the runways at LAX and widen it ever so slightly, the problem should go away. Or just expand the two Deltas, as you said. Or a little of each.

      Seems self-evident to me, but then, you know what they say about common sense… :)

  2. This is utter bullshit. No one can do what they’re supposed to, so we’re going to make the area even more confusing?

    I received a pdf via email that explained these class D areas were a mistake! Now they’re not a mistake? Is the proposed rule making now a rule?

    What is going on around here guys?

  3. With additional proposed changes to Los Angeles airspace around the Long Beach Airport, Class D to Class C, still being worked out, someone is set on making LA the most confusing airspace to navigate VFR in the country. So LAX may now have, in addition to its Class Bravo, Delta airspace adjacent to it and two Class Delta satellite airports? I have no issues with this proposed plan for the Deltas given the poorly drawn out Bravo airapce for the runways but at least give it to the Santa Monica and Hawthorne, com frequencies one might already be on for those areas and altitudes. I think there may be fewer airspace violations that way.

    1. The proposed Class C airspace at Long Beach will make the soup even worse. Here’s my take on that. Speaking of which, the LGB Class C proposal was issued more than two years ago. I wonder what’s holding it up.

      I’ve been hearing noises for quite some time about a comprehensive re-design of the entire LA basin airspace. I didn’t think the airspace was that bad, actually. Now, however, I’m starting to wonder if the more they alter it, the worse it’s likely to be — even if the changes are collective rather than piecemeal.

      Notice how GA gets crowded into a smaller chunk of sky at the expense of the airlines? It basically the same thing you see happening on the ramp at many airports. More large turbine aircraft, less GA-for-the-masses. VNY, LGB, BUR, ONT, SNA, and many other Socal airfields are seeing this trend. It’s not surprising that the airspace is following suit. I was at a vibrant GA airport in Coatesville, PA this afternoon, and it made me wistful for a scene like that in Socal.

  4. I’m not agreeing with this change, but this wouldn’t be the first time Class B doesn’t include all of Class D. John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK, the old Idlewild IDL) on Long Island has a Class B that goes down to 500 feet over the water only three miles from the airport center. The Class D airspace goes further, so when I wanted to stay within gliding distance of the beach, I was inside their Class D while still outside their Class B airspace. So I talked to “Kennedy Tower” without having to bother with a “Class Bravo clearance.” To my knowledge, nobody ever got “busted” for buzzing south of JFK 300 feet over the beach without talking to anybody, but those are, to the best of my knowledge, the official rules.

    I don’t fly Los Angeles airspace often, so I don’t know the intricacies of the corridors, but if it’s anything like Phoenix, the new restrictions would make pilots have to establish radio contact earlier than I would like. The Phoenix north-south corridors let me call Air Traffic Control (ATC) after departing surrounding airports and still gives me several miles to “negotiate” my communication and Class Bravo clearance.

    1. Hi Adam! I looked at the JFK airspace, but I don’t see anything there equivalent to what’s now north and south of the LAX airport. It’s hard to see even on a terminal chart, but there are small triangles of class D airspace which have no notation or explanation on them beyond a ceiling altitude. It’s not even clear who controls them. (I now know it’s LAX tower, but only because of an email blast from the FAA).

      If I’m wrong about that JFK airspace, maybe you can point me to the Class D you’re referring to?

  5. I was training at Hawthorne when this proposal went into effect. The first few times I flew through the LAX class D on the south side of the airport, Hawthorne tower approved me through it. Then it changed to having to call LAX tower for approval. Now my most recent including today flying through it, LAX tower said “cleared to pass through Los Angeles class Bravo”. I had been at a presentation where the guy who draws the LAX TAC said this was going to be class Bravo eventually, and apparently it is so right now even though the most recent and just released chart shows it as Delta.

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