Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Flying The Corridors

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

Other Flyways
There are a few other flyways through Class B airspace in America, but most don’t offer such close proximity to the major airports they surround. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson features a half-dozen routes around the airport, but most are 10 to 15 miles distant. In a similar sense, Chicago O’Hare/Midway offers the Lake Michigan flyway within 10 miles of America’s second-busiest airport, at altitudes up to 2,500 feet.

The huge Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport also features a number of surrounding flyways, most confined to 2,500 feet or lower and positioned at least 15 miles from the main airport. Detroit and Houston sport similar free-fly areas that don’t demand ATC control and allow pilots to fly within 10 to 15 miles of the primary terminal without an ATC clearance or radar tracking.

There are many other places in America where the FAA insists all pilots must establish ATC contact and fly specific routes, and not all of those are Class B or Class C airports.

Grand Canyon is perhaps the most publicized of SFRAs where pilots must check in and fly prescribed paths, but airspace restrictions over national parks are rarely for reasons of excessive traffic. The U.S. National Park Service lobbied the FAA to restrict overflights of major portions of the Grand Canyon because of noise pollution, and succeeded in closing much of the airspace below 18,000 feet to VFR traffic.

There’s little question electronic assistance is better than the human eye at sensing the presence of other aircraft, especially as our eyes age and we’re less able to distinguish a white airplane against a white cloud. I’ve been using the TIS feature in my Mooney for five years, and it has identified thousands of targets I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Until such time as the technology can keep pace with the problem, however, what the military calls the “standard-issue Mark I eyeball” will continue to be perhaps the most universally accepted method of keeping airplanes separated in America’s VFR corridors.

Checklist For Corridors

1) PLAN AHEAD: If there’s a local chart, buy it. Yes, you could probably ad lib off the directions on the sectional, but the local may contain recommended reporting points and other information not included on the sectional.

2) CLEAN THE PLEXI: Clean and polish the windshield and all side windows before you fly so you won’t mistake an airplane for a bug splat, or vice versa.

3) FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH ENTRY AND EXIT POINTS: Know how to enter and leave the corridor, as well as the recommended heading and checkpoint for proper alignment.

4) USE THE RADIO: Most corridors have suggested CTAFs (Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies) to help coordinate traffic. Don’t be afraid to use the Marconi as often as necessary to let everyone know your position and plans.

5) CONSIDER USING FLIGHT FOLLOWING: In some places, ATC often doesn’t have time for VFR flight following, and you’ll have to put up with “stand by” for longer than it will take to get through the corridor. Ask anyway.

6) GET IN-COCKPIT HELP: If you have TIS or TCAS, make sure they’re up and running. If you have passengers aboard, ask them to be on watch for other traffic and to advise you if they see any.

7) CONSIDER FLYING SLOWER: The Los Angeles corridor imposes a speed limit of 140 knots, but even if your corridor doesn’t insist you fly slowly, consider transiting the corridor 10 to 20 knots slower than you normally fly, and never go over 150 knots. A slower speed means more opportunity to see and be seen.

8) MAINTAIN YOUR ALTITUDE RELIGIOUSLY: Try to hold the same altitude throughout your transition, and announce your height on the CTAF.

9) TURN ON EVERY LIGHT YOU HAVE: Strobes, position lights and landing lights should all be on—day or night—when transiting a corridor. Anything that enhances your visibility for others is a good idea.

10) KEEP TO YOUR RIGHT AND STAY IN LINE: Unless there’s a reason not to (such as over LAX), line up on the right side of the corridor and try not to pass anyone.

11) AVOID MANEUVERS: A 360 for photos of the Empire State Building may seem like a great idea until you meet someone coming the other way.

12) ANNOUNCE YOUR INTENTIONS ON LEAVING THE CORRIDOR: Let other traffic know what you plan to do after you depart the corridor, whether it’s climb, descend, turn or any combination thereof.


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