Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Flying The Corridors

VFR flight corridors serve a useful purpose in congested and some not-so-congested airspace

A Cirrus SR22 transits northwest bound through busy Bravo airspace via LAX Special Flight Rules.
V­FR corridors have served an important function in U.S. airspace since the creation of the old TCAs (Terminal Control Areas) and TRSAs (Terminal Radar Service Areas), now less telegraphically renamed Class B and Class C airspace, respectively. Depending upon how you count them, there are somewhere between five and a dozen approved VFR corridors for transitions through and around controlled airspace.

A few months ago, the Hudson River flyway was U.S. Airways Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s only out when Canada geese FODed both engines of his Airbus A320, forcing him to make a power-off ditching in the water. More recently, that same flyway has come under criticism as being too dangerous for air traffic. The collision of a Piper Saratoga with a Eurocopter AS350 sightseeing helicopter has precipitated a wave of knee-jerk criticism.

The primary function of flyways is to allow reasonable transition of VFR traffic in acceptable weather conditions without burdening air traffic control with the job of traffic separation. Many nonpilots who feel the entire country should be under ATC radar coverage don’t understand that current radars aren’t capable of handling such a task. Controllers can barely handle the load they have now, much less take on additional low-altitude traffic.

Of the 40 designated blocks of Class B airspace in America, only a few approve VFR flyways adjacent to the major airport. These are intended to expedite the flow of traffic rather than funnel it 20 to 30 miles around busy terminal airspace. In some instances, this allows VFR aircraft to fly directly through the center of the “upside-down wedding cake” of many Class B airspace configurations.

Hudson River Flyway
The Hudson River flyway is perhaps the simplest of them all, and as a result of the latest accident, the most infamous. It allows traffic to transit down the Hudson River between Teterboro and Newark to the west, and LaGuardia and Kennedy to the east. The rules are simple: VFR traffic must remain over the water below 1,100 feet and is requested to transmit position and altitude on 123.05 MHz.

Technically, the flyway begins slightly northeast of Teterboro, at the George Washington Bridge, and extends south approximately 15 miles, five to seven minutes of flight time in most general aviation aircraft. The route passes well below the top of Manhattan’s 1,250-foot-tall Empire State Building, continues past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and finally terminates at the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island at the end of the Hudson River. On a clear day (or night), it’s a truly beautiful flight, providing an eagle’s eye view of one of the world’s most exciting cities.

Under normal circumstance, the Hudson River flyway is safe and easily navigable. This is the first midair collision in that flyway’s history. Though I live on the opposite coast, I’ve flown that route on several dozen occasions, day, night, weekend and weekday. I’ve rarely seen it crowded with traffic. Most of the time, I’ve been the only airplane in the flyway, with airline jets drifting by overhead.


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