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New Rules for Crowded Skies

August 23, 1987

As a passenger involved in the near-miss incident between the airliner and light plane over Santa Monica (Part I, Aug. 12), I feel fortunate to write this letter.

Safe negotiation of the airspace above the Los Angeles basin is a complicated process which taxes the ability of many an inexperienced pilot. In addition to handling the distractions involved in operating an aircraft, pilots must be on constant watch for other planes and also avoid inadvertent entry into the restricted Terminal Control Area surrounding each of the basin's commercial airports.

TCA boundaries are not straight-forward; their altitude varies with distance from the airport something like the layers of an inverted wedding cake. Unannounced entry into the TCA may escape the attention of busy air traffic controllers. Also, alarmingly enough, radar used to track aircraft in the TCA is subject to several blind spots throughout the basin. Therefore, an aircraft flying without an active transponder may stray into restricted airspace undetected by controllers. At jetliner speeds, pilots have scant time to react to such situations.

Recent action by the Federal Aviation Administration to expand the TCA (Part I, Aug. 13) is laudatory. However, it does not go far enough. First, the action applies only to Los Angeles International Airport, ignoring our other busy commercial airports. Second, expansion of the TCA merely increases the airspace which controllers must monitor, doing nothing to guard against errant small-craft intrusion. The problem must be further alleviated by mandatory use of on-board transponders and sensors to warn pilots of entry into restricted airspace or of approaching aircraft.

Navigation of the skies above the basin is a high-stakes game which holds unsuspecting passengers and teaming millions below hostage. Until we implement some real solutions to avoid mixing commercial planes with private ones, let's limit amateur pilot activity to take-off/landing loops around our small-craft airports.

LEE JOHNSON

Tujunga

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