At least once a day, small aircraft violate the strictly controlled air space 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 as well, where the FAA this month sent out a newsletter to private pilots, tersely warning that violations of controlled air space "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 TCA's (terminal control areas)--eight violations in Los Angeles and three 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, he said.
Sunday's midair 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."
The FAA has established TCA's around busy airports, including Los Angeles International and San Diego's Lindbergh Field, essentially to prevent aviation accidents like the one Sunday. San Diego's TCA was established after an in-flight collision in 1978 between a PSA jetliner and a single-engine Cessna. That accident claimed the lives of 137 people in the planes and 7 on the ground.
A pilot may not enter a TCA unless he first receives permission from air traffic controllers. He must limit his speed to no more than 230 m.p.h., have on board his aircraft a two-way radio so that controllers can stay in contact with him and he must have an encoding transponder, an electronic device that enables controllers to more accurately keep track of the aircraft's route on their radar screens.
There may be particular need for such equipment and precaution in Southern California, home to nearly one-third of the nation's civil aviation traffic. FAA officials have estimated that there are 27,000 licensed pilots in Los Angeles County and 9,000 in San Diego.
There are about 7,000 light aircraft registered in the Los Angeles Basin.
James Holtzclaw, air traffic manager of the FAA tower at Los Angeles International, said that while "99.9%" of all private pilots are safety conscious and follow the rules before entering a TCA, there are a few who, for whatever reason, rarely bother.
"We figure that at least once a day, somebody goes right through our TCA and never bothers to call us," Holtzclaw said. "Half the time, you wind up sending other aircraft out of his way, and then you try to find out who was that guy who went through."
Sometimes, police or sheriff's helicopters are alerted and asked to follow a pilot suspected of having gone through the TCA without permission. Air traffic controllers, meanwhile, try to track where the violating aircraft lands and attempt to contact the pilot there.
A pilot found guilty of blatantly violating the TCA can lose his license, Holtzclaw said.
In Washington, FAA spokesman Fred Farrar said suspensions of private pilot's licenses because of TCA violations are infrequent. He could only recall one such incident recently: That of a private pilot whose TCA violation last year forced an Eastern Airlines Boeing 727 airliner to take evasive action near Washington National Airport.