At least once a day, small aircraft violate the strictly controlled airspace surrounding Los Angeles International Airport, and about half the time, ground controllers must reroute other aircraft to avoid collision with the violators, Federal Aviation Administration officials said Tuesday.
Similar incidents are common in San Diego, where the FAA this month sent out a newsletter to private pilots, tersely warning that violations of controlled airspace "will not be condoned in any way because of the clear hazards involved."
The newsletter pointed out that on the weekend of July 26-27, there were 11 "unauthorized penetrations" of Southern California's two TCAs (terminal control areas)--8 violations in Los Angeles and 3 in San Diego.
Student pilots accounted for a few of the violations, according to Larry Lehr, an FAA accident-prevention specialist in San Diego. But the majority were attributed to experienced fliers who were either complacent or lazy in their navigation, Lehr said.
Orange County's John Wayne Airport has lower traffic volume and therefore no terminal control area. This means that there are fewer rules for private pilots to violate, according to Jay Maag, manager of the FAA control tower there. He said he is not aware of any significant problems at John Wayne involving pilots who fail to heed the restrictions that do exist, even though he has had to write reports for the FAA on four mid-air near-misses that have occurred within five miles of the airport since February, 1985.
"I don't really know that there's a problem (at John Wayne)," Maag said. "It would be pure speculation for me to say anything about it."
Maag said the last near-miss he knows about occurred last January, when a helicopter got in the way of a Frontier Airlines jet taking off from John Wayne with 99 passengers aboard. The aircraft came within 100 feet of each other, with the Frontier pilot having to rely totally on the helicopter to take evasive action.
But Maag's statistics do not include an October, 1985, near-miss involving a Jet America flight carrying 59 passengers and a small Cessna that crossed its path over Tustin during the final approach to John Wayne. That apparently is because it happened at least five miles from John Wayne, Maag said. Near-misses outside a five-mile radius of the airport are reported to several FAA facilities, and not necessarily to the local facility.
To enter a TCA, pilots must adhere to strict rules involving equipment, air speed and communications. John Wayne Airport has less-restrictive radar-tracking areas. To enter the area around John Wayne, pilots must have a two-way radio and communicate with the FAA tower, hopefully ensuring accurate identification and positioning so that collisions can be avoided.
The Cessna that flew in front of the Jet America MD-80 plane last October was not identified because the Cessna pilot failed to call the tower as required, according to FAA officials, nor was the Cessna picked up by airport radar.
Maag said Tuesday that he could not estimate how often such incidents occur. "I just don't know," he said.
But Marine Corps officials from El Toro, in sworn documents filed in federal court last year, disclosed that near-misses between high-performance military jets and slow-moving private planes were occurring at the rate of two or three each month. In some instances, the planes had come as close as 200 feet to one another.
FAA controllers based at El Toro are responsible for directing aircraft in the area, until they are on the last few miles of their approach to John Wayne. The FAA has established an air traffic advisory area a few thousand feet above Dana Point in an attempt to avoid collisions between small, sight-seeing aircraft flying along the coast and military jets returning from maneuvers over San Clemente Island. Two-way communication with air controllers is required in the advisory area.
But outside the immediate vicinity of Dana Point, El Toro or John Wayne Airport, commercial airline traffic over Orange County flies mostly through air space that is open to any pilot who happens to be there.
Planes Probably in TCA
Aviation experts suspect that Sunday's mid-air collision over Cerritos between a single-engine Piper Archer and an Aeromexico DC-9 occurred while both were in the Los Angeles TCA. However, there is no indication that the pilot of the smaller craft had been given permission to enter the TCA. He was not in radio contact with controllers.
"The man, from what we know at this point, was new to the area, and he may not have known where he was in relation to the TCA," said Jack Norris, the FAA's accident-prevention coordinator for the Western Pacific Region. "It doesn't eliminate his responsibility, though. If he was in TCA, that still would not be an excuse for him having been there."