Rick Day, Senior Vice President for Operations, Air Traffic Organization unveiled new flight safety and operational enhancements for the VFR flight corridor on New York’s Hudson river in testimony today. Mr. Day’s statements, made to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security on Aviation Safety, was in response to the fatal mid-air collision of a Piper PA-32 and a Eurocopter AS 350 on August 8th.
Current Hudson Airspace
The Task Force, consisting of FAA air traffic and safety experts and air traffic controllers, with assistance from the Helicopter Association International, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, was assigned to make recommendations. These include mandating pilot rules, standardizing charts, create an entry point from Teterboro, and restructuring the airspace in the following manner:
- It would establish a uniform “floor” for the Class B airspace over the Hudson River at 1,300 feet, which would also serve as the “ceiling” for the exclusionary zone. This removes some confusing complexity that currently exists.
- Between 1,300-2,000 feet, aircraft will operate in the Class B airspace under visual flight rules but under positive air traffic control and communicate with controllers on the appropriate air traffic frequency.
- Below 1,300 feet, aircraft must use a single common radio frequency. Mandatory routes for aircraft flying up and down the river will require them to favor the “right side” of the river (i.e. the east side for northbound traffic and the west side for southbound traffic) to provide horizontal separation as well.
- Coordination of traffic and handoffs between Air Traffic Controllers at the Teterboro tower, Newark tower, and radar control will be improved.
Proposed Hudson Airspace
Randy Babbitt, the FAA Administrator, stressed more cockpit professionalism in the drive for more safety and fewer accidents at US airlines. In a speech to the International Safety Forum today, Mr. Babbitt stated that the difference between the outcomes of the US Airways Flight 1549 and Colgan Flight 3407 was one of “textbook greatness, the other a complete inattention to basic details.”
The Administrator was referring to the contrast between the two flights. The January 15th US Airways flight, which an Airbus 320 was struck by Canada geese after departure from New York’s Laguardia airport and was followed by a successful ditching in the Hudson river. The other was the February 13th fatal crash of a Colgan DeHavilland Q400 in Buffalo, NY, in which pilot error was largely believed to be the cause.
Babbitt indicated that in addition to a more professional culture, the airlines should better utilize tools and concepts like the Safety Management System (SMS), a set of guidelines and risk management processes designed to increase the safety decision making process. Last month the FAA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (PDF) concerning the SMS for the airline industry and other aviation operators to adopt.
UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL
The world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport is taking shape in New Mexico as development continues on privately funded, civilian spacecraft which will launch from the facility. Spaceport America, located in Upham NM, 30 miles east of Truth or Consequences, has been under construction since 2007 with formal ground breaking ceremonies occurring in June 2009.
The facility will enable the launching of both manned and unmanned systems with pads for vertical launch capabilities as well as a 10,000 foot concrete runway for horizontal takeoffs and landings for spacecraft such as Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnight2/SpaceShipTwocombination. Three concrete pads were recently completed for use in NASA’s 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Centennial Challenge competition. Spacecraft will attempt to takeoff and land vertically in a simulated lunar landing. Several teams are competing for a total of $1.65M in prize money for successfully completing 180 seconds of powered flight followed by a precision landing on one of the pads.
Several launches have occurred at the facility since the project was announced in 2005 with the most recent being a UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL sounding rocket carrying a New Mexico student payload. The launch, which occurred on May 2nd, 2009, failed to reach its projected altitude.
The NTSB has issued 15 safety recommendations to various government regulators and helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) operators following a dramatic increase in accidents. Among them are the creation of scenario-based pilot training curriculum, installation of flight data recorders for aircraft, the use of an autopilot in single-pilot operations and use of night-vision equipment for pilots.
According to the NTSB, of the 55 mediflight accidents which occurred in the last 3 years, of which 41 were helicopters, 29 could have been prevented with the adoption of these recommendations and the others contained in the press release.
As a result of the increase in accidents, a 4-day hearing was conducted in February by the NTSB with testimony from the FAA, the Helicopter Association International (HAI), the Association of Air Medical Services, the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association, the National EMS Pilots Association, Air Methods, and CareFlite. The following was determined to be the focus of the hearings:
- Pilot Training
- Collection of Flight Operations Data
- Use of Flight Recording Devices and Data
- Safety Management Systems
- Weather Information
- Use of Autopilots or Dual Pilots
- Night Vision Imaging Systems
- Reimbursement Rate Structures
- Federal Policy and Guidelines
The full press release can be seen here