FAA Proposes Class D Airspace at LAX

Posted by in Aviation, IFR, Law

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.