New air routes could protect small planes

Dangers of jet turbulence behind FAA's new proposal

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2001

ANCHORAGE - The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing more than a dozen new air routes over Anchorage to safeguard small planes from potentially deadly jet turbulence.

The redesign of Anchorage's airspace is the most sweeping in more than 20 years. Officials want to add 13 routes and reconfigure seven routes over the Anchorage Bowl as early as next summer.

The proposed rules are aimed at pilots who fly small planes, including military pilots. Other changes for larger military aircraft and commercial airliners are in the works.

Anchorage's crowded airspace includes competition from the fifth-largest cargo airport in the world and float planes coming into Lake Hood, the world's busiest seaplane base.

One potentially deadly spot for wake turbulence is the north shoreline of Cook Inlet, said Curt Faulk, the FAA's air traffic support manager at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

Air traffic controllers have witnessed numerous close calls between small planes and jets using the international airport and Elmendorf Air Force Base, Faulk said.

"If you knew what we knew, you would not fly in this area," he told The Anchorage Daily News

To avoid that kind of close contact, the new routes lay out specific flight lines across the Anchorage Bowl. In the past, pilots could proceed in a general direction, as long as they stayed between two points, such as the mountains and the Seward Highway.

Lt. Col. Mike Loughlin said he's had two close calls with small planes as his F-15 passed over Point MacKenzie, a high-traffic area across the mouth of Knik Arm from Elmendorf Air Force Base. Loughlin avoided disaster, he said, but only with last-minute evasive maneuvers.

Some Anchorage-area aviators bristled at the proposals, saying the new routes put too much of the burden on small planes and not enough on other aircraft.

Scott Christy, an Anchorage recreational pilot, said he isn't sure that avoiding big planes is worth the risk of engine failure in new routes that take pilots over the icy waters of Cook Inlet or the Dimond Center, a crowded shopping area.

The rules could go into effect as early as April, but only if they're supported by pilots, Faulk said. Otherwise, the FAA will delay implementation until fall.

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