NTSB's Hudson Recommendations: Mixed

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Continuing its let's-really-jump-the-gun-on-this-one response to the Hudson River midair collision on August 8th, the board last week issued a set of recommendations to the FAA. This was done well before any conclusions about the cause of the accident have been reached, making me wonder if the board has become more politically charged than it used to be. All government agencies make administrative decisions based on politics, some more than others. Generally, the NTSB has knee-jerked to local legislators and the White House far less than other agencies, but things change.

Looking over the NTSB's recommendations, I see a mixed bag, but the kernel of one good idea, if it's executed correctly. Thus far, the agency's investigation has revealed that the Piper and helicopter slipped into a tiny crack in what has proved to be a good system for the Hudson. When the Piper pilot departed Teterboro, he asked for VFR advisories through the Class Bso he rightfully assumed traffic calls and separation from other Class B traffic would be provided. (That is, if he understood basic separation requirements.) What he perhaps didn't understand is that all that traffic buzzing down the river under the Class B floor self-separates via an agreed-upon CTAF and by eyeball. Some are talking to ATC, but most aren't. The NTSB observed that the Piper pilot wasn't participating in the self-separate program and being between frequencies with ATC, he wasn't getting advisories, either. He was betwixt and between.

The NTSB thinks ATC ought to verbally advise pilots who are dropping down below the floor of the Class B to use the CTAF frequency. Not a bad idea. They also want the CTAF procedure to be placed on tower ATISs in the region. Bad idea. Those ATISs are already clogged with too much verbiage and only a small portion of pilots transitioning the corridor will even hear them.

The NTSB also wants the FAA to establish a special flight rules area or SFRA. This would require pilots to have dedicated training before entering the airspace. LAX's VFR flyway has such an SFRA as does the Washington, D.C. area. The board thinks the training required of pilots entering the D.C. area would serve as model. This is an easy-to-complete online course and if it's done right, it could actually be beneficial at zero cost to the industry or pilots. If it could impose a little order in the chaos that occasionally surrounds the Statue of Liberty, again, not a bad idea and relatively benign as regulation goes.

But it won't fix the problem because there is no problem. And the NTSB concedes as much. In some 30 years of operation, there have been no midairs in the Hudson corridor and the FAA says about 200 aircraft transition daily. (I bet the number is higher, because I don't think anyone is counting.)

So let's put some numbers on that. Figuring 200 airplanes a day, it works out to an accident rate of .047 per 100,000 operations. Let's see, it takes maybe 15 minutes to fly the corridor from the Tappan Zee to Sandy Point, so presently, we stand at 0.18 accidents per 100,000 flight hours or something like 35 times lower than the GA overall GA accident rate of about 7/100,000 and even a little lower than the air carrier rate of .22/100,000.

It's a delusion to think procedures are going to move that rate downward. What they can do, however, is give pilots more knowledge and comfort in flying in this airspace and that's not a bad thing. But frankly, I won't be disappointed if the FAA does nothing with the NTSB recommendations. Other than mollifying the squalling political class, they won't accomplish much.

Comments (18)

Paul I totally agree with your comments. I have flown the corridor on many occasions and really enjoy the experience. One other point is that there are about 40,000 deaths on the highway each year and that is somehow an accepted toll for the freedoms each of us enjoy ie to travel the highways of this great land whenever we so choose. No one, including the NTSB, seems to have a problem with this. The real question is why aviation accidents are so spectacularly newsworthy and so unacceptable. We really need the right answer to this question if we are to make headway against the perception that flying is a wildly dangerous activity that will rain death and destruction from the skies to all who live below. Finding out the real reason for this perception is a worthy project for some rigorously scientific research that should be funded by the aviation community. If we knew the real reason we are fighting a loosing battle with each accident, we have a chance to start implementing the correct solution. I bet the real reason has not been identified and would be a surprise to us all. And we should be ready for an answer we do not like. Claudius Klimt

Posted by: claudius klimt | August 31, 2009 8:04 AM    Report this comment

This goes back to the Cory Lidle crash; How is anyone flying these corridors in compliance with 91.119(b)? I can't think of too many places more congested than NYC, so if you're flying around at 1000 agl then fly over a bridge or within 2000ft of the skyline (as Lidle seems to have done) you're in violation. Am I missing something?

Posted by: Andy Manning | August 31, 2009 8:11 AM    Report this comment

Has anyone noticed that the Hudson River Corridor is Class E between 700 and 1100 feet, not Class G? So it's possible to receive Flight Following in Class E, even though the recommendation for the Corridor is to monitor the Corridor CTAF? That's what TEB was doing and that's why the helicopter was on one frequency and the Piper was somewhere between two other frequencies. Just ask yourself what would have happened differently if the Corridor were Class G from the river to 1100 feet. TEB would have had to hand the Piper off to the CTAF, not EWR..."leaving controlled airspace, Squawk 1200, contact CTAF on...".

Posted by: James Grant | August 31, 2009 7:57 PM    Report this comment

200+ aircraft a day, if we were considering an airport with takeoffs and landings that would be a pretty busy airport, and would likely justify a tower. Why couldn't there be a dedicated controller to provide flight following to everyone in the corridor? Not workload permitting, but available to everyone on one frequency. Either way, everyone needs to be doing the same thing - be it flight following or self-announce. With that being said, one accident in 30+ years - I don't get what the problem is.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 1, 2009 8:27 PM    Report this comment

Paul: What's your opinion on the recommendation for altitude segregation?

Posted by: Frank Van Haste | September 2, 2009 7:08 AM    Report this comment

What does "advisories in class B space" mean. Is the Piper in positive control? Wasn't he climbing through 1,100 to 2,000 or final of 3,500? I don't think we have all the facts yet!

Posted by: Norman Greenberg | September 2, 2009 8:03 AM    Report this comment

As a helicopter pilot who flies the hudson frequently I think most of the fixed wing pilots are first time tourists. They are totally unfamilar with the corridor and spend most of their time taking in the sites not looking for traffic. I have experienced fixed wingers flying in a directly opposite direction to traffic. When you call them ...no answer..they are not on the corridor ctaf.Yes they have as much right to the airspace as helicopters do but common sense dictates that they fly at a safe altitude and speed considering where they are ( not at 500 feet as I have witnessed ). I believe that the day before the accident one shouldn't say it was the safest airspace in NY or now the deadliest the day after. That just doesn't make any sense. BTW where did the Obama administration get the new NTSB director from ??...Greyhound ! Her bio makes no mention of any flying experience.

Posted by: jim miller | September 2, 2009 9:48 AM    Report this comment

I've never flown the Hudson corridor, however I fly the Chicago lakefront regularly (I had a controller try to steer me into an active TFR once, another story for another day) I could see recommended altitudes for the north and southbound, similar to VFR cruising altitudes for non-maneuvering traffic would make sense in these corridors. Also, perhaps a 100 kt speed limit. I really don't think there is a major safety problem in the corridors I've personally flown, but it probably doesn't matter in the court of public opinion. Something will be done, I hope the flying community can help influence it to be something we can all live with.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 2, 2009 11:19 AM    Report this comment

I fly the corridor regularly in a helicopter and also concur with altitude separation as a "good idea". As mentioned, at "200 operations per day" in that relatively small an area qualifies the airspace to be "equivalent" to an airport, where pattern altitude separation of fixed and rotary aircraft is already specified.

Though this is the first occurrence of a mixed type accident in a long time, common sense and already standing operating procedure dictates that having SOME altitude separation between aircraft operating at such different speeds and perhaps different missions would serve to increase the safety of all involved.

Posted by: Avi Weiss | September 3, 2009 9:29 AM    Report this comment

I've flown the corridor many times. I also have an office in Downtown NYC that overlooks the corridor. I can't speak for weekend traffic, but daily traffic is 90+ percent Heli. Most of this is 'executive transport'. To me, this traffic does not need to be at altitudes greater than 500ft. VFR fixed-wing should have a VFR corridor separate from Heli. What the FAA is proposing is 'close' to what is needed. I was taught to fly at the top (1000-1100) of the corridor to avoid the Heli's below. I also have 6-7 reporting positions I transmit. Having separate corridors for fixed and rototcraft is a good idea. Having a separate frequency for the corridor is already there. Not everyone uses it. Most rarely call position. This includes the 'professional' Heli-drivers.

Posted by: Greg Piney | September 3, 2009 9:31 AM    Report this comment

I just read the Avweb article about the FAA's recommendations for the Hudson corridor. They make so much sense, I can't hardly believe they are coming from the FAA. Not to mention, I'm encouraged that there is some relief from the 30 NM Presidential TFR's The jury's still out for me, but I like what we're seeing from Mr Babbitt so far.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 3, 2009 10:25 AM    Report this comment

I have flown the Hudson Corridor since its conception so many times I've lost count. NEVER...NEVER had even a close encounter. Yes there are idiots out there (like the ones that ran into a building...(cory)etc.) But NO rule is going to change that or them.The Problem lies with all these "knee Jerk" idiot lawmakers from NY & NJ.(not going to mention "Chucky the Chese Suhmer" and a couple of others) The problem lies with the facts....we all know the pilot of the PA-32 had his head burried in the cocpit (changing freq) and the pilot of the helo was'nt watching either. Why ...In todays glass world don't they have tis or tas (esp for the charter operators? Helio's dont need to be any higher than 500 over the "Lady" and on the same note fixed winged pilots dont have to do 360's in the middle of the river near the Intrepted to take pics either. The botom line......USE COMMON SENSE...and if your NOT from the area get yourself a CFI who has some time under his belt (and in the Corridor)and take a ride with him or her first. Would anyone fly in the Grand Canyon with out getting Instructions first? USE COMMON SENSE !!! Going SOUTH stay on the NJ side...going NORTH stay on the NY side....give reporting points with ALT.... If your afraid to talk on the radio STAY HOME !!!!

Posted by: al kissh | September 3, 2009 12:53 PM    Report this comment

Al - as a CFII with 2000+ hours, yes I would fly the Grand Canyon, and the corridor without additional instruction. That is one of the privileges of a pilot certificate. The rules are supposed to be the same nationwide so a pilot can reasonably fly anywhere. If there are special rules that are "understood" by the locals that is unacceptable - we either fly by the FAR's, or get them amended so everyone knows what's going on. It is my right as a pilot to circle the Intrepid, or the Statue of Liberty, or whatever, so long as I abide by the regulations, whether or not I'm flying a fixed wing, rotorcraft, or an ultralight. We really don't know whether the PA32 pilot had his head buried in the cockpit or not - let's wait for the official report to jump to conclusions. That said, I think the FAA's recommendations, while possibly premature, are reasonable, and will keep everyone on the same page. I hope they plaster these new rule all over a sectional chart (Not a Terminal chart - everyone should have a Terminal chart with them but most don't) so everyone knows what's going on.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 4, 2009 6:42 AM    Report this comment

Al, I am with you ! Just because you are allowed to do something that doesn't mean it is prudent to do it. Cory Lidell was technically allowed to fly his plane in the East River but common sense should have told him and his out of town CFI that it wasn't a good idea. Planes doing 360's over the Interpid while legal is fool hardy to say the least. Just because you can doesn't always mean you should. Can we all just use a little common sense.

Posted by: jim miller | September 4, 2009 9:56 AM    Report this comment

Every Class B airspace is unique, but I fly the LAX Special Flight Rules Area and it works. There are two additional controlled routes to transition LAX airspace. This keeps uncontrolled traffic on its own frequency and airspace.

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | September 4, 2009 11:03 AM    Report this comment

Jim, I almost agree. Because you are allowed to do something, doesn't mean you should do it. However, just because you personally believe something is fool hardy, doesn't mean someone else shouldn't. For example, the Cory Lidle accident could have been prevented by either a steep turn (well within the capabilities of his aircraft) or by declaring an emergency and continuing into the airspace. No brainer. If a person was not qualified or competent to execute those maneuvers, they should probably be in a different airplane, certainly not flying the east river. Any CFI should be able to handle airspace like NYC or Chicago - if they can't they probably need a 709 ride! Same thing goes for flying VFR along the Hudson, or doing sightseeing. If you're not competent in the airplane, either get a good instructor, or stay away! However, just because you are not comfortable with taking pictures of the Intrepid or the Statue of Liberty doesn't mean someone else should be prohibited from doing so. It always has amazed me that a person will condemn another's flying as "risky, poor decision making, etc" and then cannot even pull off a decent flight review (especially with the GPS off!)

Posted by: Josh Johnson | September 4, 2009 12:09 PM    Report this comment

Yes, another tragedy, but do we really need more regs, or just FOLLOW the ones on the books..VFR, and PIC ?

Posted by: Unknown | September 5, 2009 10:04 PM    Report this comment

This is the first case I have heard of where the FAA is proposing to make a tighter set of regulations than an NTSB proposal. As an occasional corrior flier the training requirement and standardizing the current ad-hoc procedures parts make a lot of sense, but trying to segregate a set of altitudes that would require a pilot to exceed the altitude holding requirements for instrument flight seems a bit much. My experience as an instructor shows me that a lot of private pilots start a BFR unable to stay in a 300 foot layer without concentrating a lot of their attention on holding altitude at the expense of looking for traffic. Redesigning the airspace moves out of the realm of improvment and into the area of fixing something that isn't broken in what appears to be a political reaction to the publicity over the crash. Of course, I have only seen the FAA press release, not the NPRM, maybe it makes things clearer.

Posted by: Michael Bevan | September 8, 2009 8:04 AM    Report this comment

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