PREVIOUS PILOT ALERTS


UPDATE 6/19/2015: Lexus dealer planning to build an automobile sales/display lot in the RPZ

(First ALERT was 5/9/2015)

The Airport Commission heard the Land Management Team’s recommendation to approve this development on Thursday 2/5 and voted UNANIMOUSLY to REJECT the Land Management Team’s recommendation. Five of the six Torrance pilots who attended spoke against the proposal--the Lexus dealer was a no-show.

On May 20, the Planning Commission reviewed the plan. The Torrance Airport Association and California Pilots Association (CPA) both made presentations about the safety concerns and the need for further review by CalTrans Aeronautics Division and by the Los Angeles County Airport Land Use Commission (ALUC). These reviews are required by state law. All but one of the commissioners voted to approve the plan--due mainly to erroneous statements made by the City Attorney and the Lexus dealer's attorney.

TAA and CPA filed a formal appeal of the decision. The ALUC has notified the City of Torrance that it must review the plan, but the City seems to be ignoring the issue. TAA met with the City Council members on 23 June. As of the date shown at the bottom of the page, no appeal hearing has been scheduled.


5/9/2015: Lexus dealer planning to build an automobile sales/display lot in the RPZ


The South Bay Lexus dealer is requesting permission to build a sales and display lot with light standards within the RPZ. At left is a map showing the area of the proposal.

The Airport Commission heard the Land Management Team’s recommendation to approve this development on Thursday 2/5 and voted UNANIMOUSLY to REJECT the Land Management Team’s recommendation. Five of the six Torrance pilots who attended spoke against the proposal--the Lexus dealer was a no-show.

The fight is NOT OVER! The proposal will be reviewed by the Planning Commission on May 20th at 7 PM in the City Council Chambers. TAA continues to voice objections to this scheme.

The City Council can still approve it--even over the recommendation of the commissions. If the City Council approves the proposal and the project is built, the addition of that much metal near the ILS glide slope antenna may distort the signal sufficiently that the FAA could decide to decommission it--leaving Torrance Airport without an ILS!


UPDATE 12/02/2014: Another near-miss at TOA

(first ALERT 5/30/2014)

On October 23, 2014, about 1537 eastern daylight time, a Cirrus SR22 airplane and a Robinson R44 II helicopter collided in midair approximately 1 mile southwest of the Frederick Municipal Airport (FDK), Frederick, Maryland. All three occupants of the helicopter died. A preliminary report was issued by the NTSB on 11/03/2014. It appears that neither pilot saw the other aircraft, although the tower had them both in sight.

This collision is eerily similar to an incident at Torrance on 5/30/2014, except that the airplane pilot saw the helicopter at nearly the same altitude and they did not collide. Although the airplane pilot at Torrance reported that a collision risk existed, the FAA will not investigate the incident as a near-mid-air-collision (NMAC).

Both of these incidents clearly show that mixing small helicopters with aircraft at the same altitude near the airport is not only dangerous, it is deadly.

Click here to view the preliminary NTSB report on the Frederick collision.


11-08-2014: MIXING FIXED- AND ROTARY-WING TRAFFIC

Mr Glen Martin (FAA's Western Pacific Region Administrator) spoke to about 70 fixed- and rotary-wing pilots at the annual safety seminar organized by the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association (PHPA) at the Robinson Helicopter Company on Saturday 11/8/2014. TAA was encouraged by his remarks that the FAA will NOT support mixing helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft near airports. He wants input from pilots and he is also working with the communities to get them to understand the limitations. He confirmed that FAA believes in SAFETY FIRST, but they need help with noise.

The overall focus of the seminar was the issue of low level flight both from a safety standpoint as well as from the perspective of noise created on the ground in the communities over which we all fly.

An "earmark" to Federal legislation, slipped into an unrelated "must-pass" spending bill by Rep Adam Schiff working with Senator Diane Feinstein and passed in January of this year, requires the FAA to show "significant progress" on reducing helicopter noise in the L A Basin or be forced into rulemaking. The FAA's recent institution of discrete special transponder codes for helicopter operations and the FAA's decision to award a 1-year contract to purchase noise complaint data for the basin area (to be awarded soon) are actions to show such progress.

The helicopter industry has submitted a proposal to the Helicopter Noise Coalition, but some in that group want no noise at all; some want helicopter route altitudes raised to 2,000 feet AGL; and some want a reduction in the number of flights. Mr Martin noted that this is unlikely in Torrance because of Robinson Helicopter Company flight test operations.

Several members of the audience reminded Mr Martin that complaint data is very suspect if no record is made of the complainer and location of the complaint. Without validating this information, a few complainers can completely skew the results by flooding the system with thousands of anonymous and bogus complaints--making the information useless for supporting important decision-making.

Several pilots also expressed concern that some local governments are passing laws regulating aircraft in flight and intending to issue tickets to pilots--even though those pilots are complying with FARs. We could end up with a patchwork of differing laws across the country--all of them encroaching on the jurisdiction of the FAA.

AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS ARE NOW AUTOMATED

Pat Carey (Chairman of the Southern California Airspace Users Working Group) reviewed some of the issues with the L A Basin airspace configuration. He noted that airspace violations are now AUTOMATED. Pilots should be aware that any airspace violations are now automatically identified to ATC operators by software--even minute violations. The aircraft is then tracked until the pilot is notified to call ATC for a "possible pilot deviation." A corrective check ride action may be required and will remain on the pilot's record for 24 months. Revocation of the pilot's certificate is possible if the violation is ignored.

He also noted that over LAX, crossing traffic is established at virtually every 500-ft interval through 7,500 AGL in the transitional airspace accommodating helicopters, fixed wing light aircraft, and arriving and departing airliners. Helicopters also have a high transition route and a low transition route along the beach at or below 150 feet. There is little room anywhere in Los Angeles airspace to shove helicopter traffic substantially higher, as demanded by homeowner groups-- although some areas will accommodate higher altitudes at the discretion of ATC and, of course, the helicopter pilot.

ALL LASER STRIKES MUST BE REPORTED TO ATC

Morrie Zager (L A County Sherriff's office) noted that aiming a laser of any type at an aircraft is a federal felony offense, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and significant fines.

If a pilot is struck by a laser, he MUST report it to ATC. The recommended procedures:

Further information can be obtained from Morrie (mczager@lasd.org) or from Bobby White (bobby.white@faa.gov).

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS

Edward Story (Professional Helicopter Pilots Association) expanded on Pat Carey's airspace comments. He quoted a FAA staffer that the Los Angeles area airspace is "THE most complex airspace ON THE PLANET".

He recounted some of the interactions that PHPA has had with the Los Angeles Area Helicopter Noise Coalition (LAAHNC) homeowners and some of their demands. He called on all of us to work together to help the FAA "show significant progress" on the issue. He noted, however, that Congressional legislation to micro-manage the FAA is a possibility. The closing of Rialto Airport, the Disneyland TFR, the Schiff/Feinstein 'earmark', and the Long Island offshore routes are examples of Congressional fiat encroaching on the FAA's authority.


10/24/2014: 3 Dead in helicopter/airplane collision at Frederick Municipal Airport

A midair collision eerily similar to the close call reported at Torrance in May has claimed the lives of 3 people at the airport in Frederick, Maryland. Just like the incident at Torrance, the aircraft was entering the traffic pattern and collided with a helicopter performing training operations at the airport.


UPDATE 10/09/2014: Another near-miss at TOA

(first ALERT 5/30/2014)

On Friday, 5/30/2014, at approximately 3:30PM, a southbound Lancair entering the north traffic pattern at 1100 feet MSL barely missed colliding with a northbound helicopter at the same altitude. The incident was reported to tower personnel and to NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). The pilot asked Mr Glen Martin (FAA's Acting Regional Administrator for the Western-Pacific Region) and Mr Gerald Boots (FAA's Long Beach FSDO) to investigate the incident.

In his most recent letter, Mr Martin explained the FAA guidelines for classifying such an event as a Near Mid-Air Collision (NMAC):
Joint Order 8020.16,4, Air Traffic Organization Aircraft Accident and Incident Notification, Investigation, and Reporting Document Information, Appendix F defines a Near Mid Air Collision (NMAC) as "an incident associated with the operation of an aircraft in which the possibility of collision occurs as a result of proximity of less than 500 feet to another aircraft, OR a report is received from a pilot or flightcrew member stating that a collision hazard existed between two or more aircraft." [emphasis added]

Mr Martin then went on to explain why the FAA did NOT classify the event as a NMAC:
In this case, the replay of available radar data showed the closest estimated proximity was 621 feet. Quality Assurance did not file a NMAC since the estimated proximity was greater than 500 feet, and there was no report from the flightcrew stating that a near midair collision had occurred. [emphasis added]

Since the PIC of the Lancair reported the incident by radio and phone to the control tower, by several e-mails to Mr Martin, and to NASA's ASRS, it would seem that the FAA's definition of a NMAC clearly applies to this incident. The claim that there was no report is not true.

On the issue of noise abatement's intimidation of pilots, the letter disclaims any discussion of the subject between the controller and the pilot. The Lancair pilot stands by his account (PILOT ALERT 5/30/2014).

A fixed-base operator at the airport recently confided: ". . .instructors, including myself, have all had close calls, and most events occurred as a result of tower operators either losing track of where their traffic was, or giving incorrect direction that has, or would have, resulted in traffic conflicts. These issues are not only common, but well known by many other Torrance airport pilots."

He continued: "I have flown in the local Los Angeles area for about 20 years in different operations, and have been instructing for about 15. I can honestly say that I have had more close encounters with traffic within the Torrance airspace, than in any other arena. There have been numerous times that I felt if I had not been assisting in the role of PIC with a student, flights would result in NMAC situations. I understand Torrance airport is a training airport for ATC operators, but we have many missed situations by the supervisors as well."

All of this leaves the flying community with a troubling question:

WHY IS THE FAA NOT CONCERNED THAT THESE EVENTS ARE AN INDICATOR OF AN UNSAFE SITUATION AT TOA?


UPDATE 8/12/2014: Another near-miss at TOA

(first ALERT 5/30/2014)

On Friday, 5/30/2014, at approximately 3:30PM, a southbound Lancair entering the north traffic pattern at 1100 feet MSL barely missed colliding with a northbound helicopter at the same altitude. The incident was reported to tower personnel and to NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). The pilot asked Mr Glen Martin (FAA's Acting Regional Administrator for the Western-Pacific Region) and Mr Gerald Boots (FAA's Long Beach FSDO) to investigate the incident.

On July 2, 2014, Mr Martin responded, advising that:

That response leaves a number of very troubling and unanswered questions:

The FAA's web site stresses its safety role [emphasis added]:

These aims are consistent with those of the Torrance Airport Association and we completely support the FAA mission, vision, and values. We want them to be reflected in the operations at Torrance Airport!


UPDATE 8/11/2014: FAA asked to investigate Torrance noise abatement activities

(first ALERT 6/20/2014)

Jon Rodgers, an advisor for the legal team defending a Torrance Airport helicopter operator before the Torrance Noise Hearing Appeals Board, has filed an informal complaint with the FAA and requested that the FAA initiate an investigation into ". . .an unlawful intrusion by the City of Torrance into FAR 91.3(a) and FAR 91.129(f) when a helicopter pilot flew near a noise monitor and violated the Torrance Airport noise limits."

Mr Glen Martin, Acting FAA Regional Administrator has recently responded to Mr Rodgers' request. The undated response did not adequately address the issues raised in Mr Rodgers' original request for an investigation and he has again raised the questions in another e-mail. He points out that FAR 91.3(a), which invests the pilot-in-command with full responsibility and final authority for safe operation of his aircraft, makes no exceptions that require pilots to comply with noise abatement procedures. He also questions the veracity of assurances by the City of Torrance that they consider safety issues in the enforcement of their noise abatement regulations.


7/13/2014: No justification for raising helicopter altitudes at TOA

Those pushing to raise helicopter altitudes near Torrance Airport falsely claim that the helicopters are so noisy the City and FAA should increase minimum altitudes--a move which would increase the risk to pilots' lives. The graph below shows the data they published of 51 helicopter flights along west PCH on 7/11/2008 (black diamonds). For comparison, the Torrance Noise Ordinance limit (82 db) is also shown (red line). Comparison levels for other typical exposures are also shown.

The graph clearly shows:
1) All of the helicopter noise is FAR BELOW the limits imposed by the city and SIGNIFICANTLY BELOW the sound of street traffic (80db).
2) The average helicopter sound level (67.8 db) is below that of a household vacuum cleaner (70 db) and only 6% of the flights exceeded the vacuum cleaner level.
3) If each overflight lasted as long as 30 seconds, the helicopters were heard for a total of 25 minutes during the 9 hour recording period (less than 5% of the time). During 95% of those 9 hours, the complainer is free to quietly enjoy his or her TV or conversation (so long as no one is vacuuming and street traffic noise does not interfere).

A further note: Robinson Helicopter (listed as source of 94% of the recorded flights) does not fly after 5 PM on weekdays, seldom flies on weekends, and never flies on holidays.

The attempt to justify the risk to pilots' lives because of helicopter noise fails completely--even based on the data presented by the complainers! Maybe this is the reason why the FAA and the City of Torrance both refuse to discuss the issue with the Association.


6/22/2014: TAA to keep track of helicopter conflicts near TOA

In spite of the increasing number of air traffic conflicts resulting from attempts to force helicopters near the airport to fly at higher altitudes, neither the City of Torrance nor the FAA has a simple system to report or to record the dangerous conflicts that result. Although the City has reportedly delayed their "test" of the 900 MSL minimum helicopter routes, the tower controllers report that helicopter pilots are requesting higher arrivals and departures to accede to pressure from the noise abatement staff. The tower is apparently issuing clearances for those requested altitudes.

The Association has devised a simple way to report these conflicts. Just fill out the date, add a few of the details, and submit the report--anonymously if you prefer. The verification number prevents computer "bots" from flooding our e-mail with spam. TAA will receive the report, store it, and make periodic reports of the results. No names or e-mail addresses will be included.

It is important to report all conflicts--the safety of our flying community is at stake!


6/20/2014: FAA asked to investigate Torrance noise abatement activities

Jon Rodgers, an advisor for the legal team defending a Torrance Airport helicopter operator before the Torrance Noise Hearing Appeals Board, has filed an informal complaint with the FAA and requested that the FAA initiate an investigation into ". . .an unlawful intrusion by the City of Torrance into FAR 91.3(a) and FAR 91.129(f) when a helicopter pilot flew near a noise monitor and violated the Torrance Airport noise limits."

He cites the obligation of the FAA to require all airport sponsors to operate their airports safely, the interference of the City with the pilot's legal obligations and authority under the FARs, the use of a quasi-legal process in the hearing and appeal process without basic legal protections for the accused, and the illegal intimidation of pilots by the City's noise abatement staff and hearing process.

Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) 91.3 states: "The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft." FAR 91.129(f) describes the requirements for operating in Class D airspace and states that pilots must "[a]void the flow of fixed-wing aircraft, if operating a helicopter." FAR 91.11 states: "No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember's duties aboard an aircraft being operated."

Rogers' complaint and request was sent to Mr Glen Martin, FAA's Acting Western Pacific Regional Administrator, on April 24, 2014.


5/30/2014: Another near-miss at TOA

The Association continues to hear of conflicts between helicopter operations and fixed-wing aircraft in the traffic patterns at the airport. On Friday, 5/30, at approximately 3:30PM, a Lancair entering the north traffic pattern at 1200 feet barely missed colliding with a helicopter at the same altitude as it departed to the north. The Lancair pilot estimated that if he had initiated his turn to downwind a second earlier, a collision would likely have occurred. The incident was reported to tower personnel who reviewed the tapes and confirmed the incident. A report was also filed with NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS).

The tower controller stated that the city noise abatement personnel are intimidating helicopter pilots to fly higher and use the north traffic pattern in order to appease a few vocal homeowners who bought homes near the airport and now don't want airplanes to fly over them. The tower simply responds to the requests of the helicopter pilots. The controllers share the Association's concern that it will take one or more fatal mid-air collisions to halt this intimidation.

The flying community has expressed similar concerns about safety issues since the summer of 2013, but Torrance officials have ignored those concerns. They apparently feel that those of us whose lives are at risk are less important than those few who are merely annoyed by the helicopter flights.

If you experience ANY safety conflicts within the TOA Class D airspace, please do the following:


2/24/2014: Few complaints recorded about TOA helicopters

The FAA is considering removal of altitude separation between helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft in several areas of the Los Angeles basin. The City of Torrance is planning to do a 6-month test of these changes at the Torrance Airport this summer. Members of the aviation community have expressed serious concerns about the safety of this plan.

There is no data to show that helicopters on the current routes exceed the Torrance noise ordinances, and City records show few complaints have been recorded. Even those complaining about helicopter noise show that the sound levels are FAR BELOW levels (82db maximum) required by Torrance ordinances. The flying community questions the need to make any changes to helicopter altitudes--especially changes that pose a risk to those in the air and to those on the ground, as well.

A 16-month study revealed that only 12 individuals (not all Torrance residents) made over 50% of the complaints about airport operations. Overall, the study found that 99.7% of Torrance residents DID NOT MAKE COMPLAINTS about airport operations.

Since that result was made public, the City of Torrance stopped recording the names and addresses of those making complaints. Data about helicopter complaints has been redacted by the City to obscure much information that would be useful to determine whether or not people are really complaining about helicopter flights near the airport.


9/15/2013: Proposed West PCH helicopter route altitudes raised to 900 MSL

The FAA is considering removal of altitude separation between helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft in several areas of the Los Angeles basin. The City of Torrance is planning to do a 6-month test of these changes at the Torrance Airport. Members of the aviation community have expressed serious concerns about the FAA's risk evaluation process, their decision to implement these changes, and with ability of Torrance to plan and execute a safe test process.

On 9/14/2013, the Association obtained a new draft report from the FAA's Safety Risk Mitigation (SRM) Panel that raises the helicopter operating altitudes on the West PCH route from 600 MSL to 900 MSL (versus the proposed 1400 MSL). The FAA is ready to ". . . assure that the change . . . does not introduce any safety risk into the NAS." The flying community strongly disagrees. This change only reduces the traffic conflict along the beach, but does nothing to eliminate the traffic conflicts in the other four areas!

VFR aircraft altimeters may display altitudes plus or minus 100 feet or more from actual altitude--even with the correct pressure setting. In addition, the standard for the private VFR pilot exam is to hold asigned altitude within 100 feet. Even a layman can clearly see that the FAA's 200 ft difference in altitude between fixed- and rotary-wing traffic can disappear and there will be NO ALTITUDE SEPARATION between them. This is a midair disaster waiting to happen and exposes the FAA's assurance that ". . .the change . . . does not introduce any safety risk into the NAS" is, at best, a naive misstatement.


8/12/2013: Results of our meeting with the FAA

At the request of David Suomi, FAA's Acting Western/Pacific Regional Administrator, members of the flying community met with Mr Suomi and his staff. The community outlined its concerns and questions about plans to remove altitude separation at the Torrance Airport. They gave him a letter that recounted the details of their issues and concerns.

Results of that meeting answered some questions and raised others that remain unanswered.

If this situation at Torrance Airport concerns you as a pilot, send an email to the following FAA officials and tell them so!

If you don't voice your concern, the FAA will assume that you accept this reduction in your safety.


8/1/2013: Flying Community to meet with FAA 8/12/2013

The FAA is considering removal of altitude separation between helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft in several areas of the Los Angeles basin. The City of Torrance is planning to do a 6-month test of these changes at the Torrance Airport. Members of the aviation community have expressed serious concerns about the FAA's risk evaluation process, their decision to implement these changes, and with the planned test.

The FAA's Acting Western/Pacific Region Administrator (Mr David Suomi) has agreed to meet on 12 August with members of the flying community at the Western/Pacific Region headquarters to hear their concerns. Results of that meeting and FAA's responses will be posted here immediately following the meeting. If you would like the Association to send you an e-mail when this information is posted or if you have additional concerns, please send an e-mail to TAA.


7/19/2013: Small helicopters are already flying in the pattern at Torrance!

At a meeting with FAA personnel on 7/10/2013, members of the Association were shocked to learn that small helicopters are now routinely inserted into the TOA traffic patterns at 1100 MSL. Although the FARs require helicopters to remain clear of fixed-wing traffic, no explanation was given for this practice. Attendees were, however, reminded by the FAA personnel that it is the pilot's responsibility to "see and avoid" other traffic while in the pattern.

The problem lies in the fact that small helicopters are extremely difficult for a pilot of an aircraft to see--especially when approaching it from behind. This places the pilot in the impossible position of being responsible for avoiding a helicopter he cannot see and may be approaching at a rate of 40 to 60 or more kt. That is why altitude separation has been used for traffic patterns at airports and why the helicopter pattern has been 600 MSL.

If this situation at Torrance Airport concerns you as a pilot, send an email to the following FAA officials and tell them so! (please copy taainfo@aol.com)

If you don't voice your concern, the FAA will assume that you accept this reduction in your safety. A recent court decision favored noise complainers over safety!


History of this issue