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Friday, January 16, 2009

Class B Airspace and What It All Means

What is Going on with Class B Airspace?

Since the fall of 2008, Skydive Carolina management was informed
that the Charlotte Douglas airport was expanding its facility with the
addition of a third runway in order to meet the demands of increased
traffic flow into the airport. As a result of heavier traffic, the Charlotte
ATC has requested that the perimeters of the current Class B airspace
be extended to a full 30 miles from the airport. This would result in
Skydive Carolina having to operate within this
new and more restrictive airspace.

Below is a summary of the facts of why Charlotte Air Traffic Control
wants the Chester County airport to be inside this new regulated
airspace and how Skydive Carolina is defending itself.

*Blue Lines Represent Current Class B Airspace
*Red Lines Represent Proposed Class B Airspace

Class Bravo - The Facts

DEFINITION: What is Class B Airspace?

  • Class B: Operations may be conducted under IFR, SVFR, or Visual Flight Rules (VFR). All aircraft are subject to ATC clearance. All flights are separated from each other by ATC.
Why does the Charlotte Air Traffic Control Wish to Extend Class B to envelop Chester County Airport?

The Charlotte Douglas International Airport is constructing a third runway to handle the
increased demand for air traffic into the airport. With the decline of aircraft operations in Philadelphia and Orlando, Charlotte has become the 5th busiest airport in the United States with approximately 1600 operations (takeoffs and landings) per day. One of the major problems for ATC (air traffic control) controllers occurs when the winds are coming out of the north forcing heavy traffic to land at the airport from the south.

Here's the problem:

When flying this southern route, airplanes turn on a base leg west of Chester County airport and fly directly over the DZ. The issue for controllers is that these airplanes enter Class B airspace on the west side of Chester, then exit Class B over the Chester airport, then re-enter Class B before turning in on the final approach to Charlotte Douglas airport. When this happens, controllers must tell each and every pilot that they are entering, exiting and re-entering Class B. This makes the work of the controllers dealing with each of the pilots very work-intensive especially on very busy days during rush hour traffic for aircraft flying into Charlotte. See the diagram below:

Why We're Concerned

Skydive Carolina management is concerned for two major reasons:

Asking Permission: Once inside Class B airspace, Skydive Carolina would be required to ask permission from Charlotte ATC to drop jumpers. If traffic is heavy in the area, the air traffic controller can deny Skydive Carolina from dropping and require a go-around. This is a major concern because if requested to execute many go-arounds, this is a direct hit to the profit margin for Skydive Carolina as additional fuel is being burned due to the inefficiency of resetting the pattern. In an industry where profit margins are slim and where the success of an operation is heavily based on weather conditions, there is very little room for additional inefficiency.

B). Future Growth: It is the intent for Skydive Carolina to extend its operations during the warmer months to a 4 day a week operation. Future growth is a concern as busier traffic patterns for Charlotte occur during the weekdays. The potential for business interuption during a rush hour push into Charlotte Douglas is of great concern.

Skydive Carolina's Defense

Skydive Carolina has had five meetings with the ATC personnel and FAA since October to try and iron out a solution that works best for ATC and Skydive Carolina. To this point, everything that Skydive Carolina has proposed has been denied. ATC has suggested that we create a Letter of Agreement (LOA) which is a legal document that sets the ground rules of how ATC will accommodate Skydive Carolina and its operations. Though this sounds like a great option, the problem is that an LOA must be renewed annually. So, if ATC doesn't like the way things have preceeded, an LOA that allows Skydive Carolina to operate with minimum interuption could be dropped leaving Skydive Carolina at the mercy of ATC within Class B.

As a result, Skydive Carolina is working with the following organizations in its defense:

SC Department of Commerce / Division of Aeronautics: The SC Dept. of Commerce is Skydive Carolina's biggest ally in assisting the DZ in protection of itself. The reality of this situation is that North Carolina business (the CLT airport) will effect a South Carolina business. This stance is our strongest in our defense.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has a great interest in this case as General Aviation operations will be hindered due to Class B. Currently, the AOPA has its experts in Washington drawing up alternatives and procedures for Charlotte ATC to operate without hindering the operations out of the Chester County Airport.

Skydive Carolina is working with the Government Relations division of the USPA to get assistance to ensure that Skydive Carolina is able to operate without interuption at the Chester County Airport.

Fact vs. Rumor

I have received many phone calls regarding the Class B movement from many different people unclear on what all this means. The media has picked up this story, but many of the facts are not accurate. Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions:

Is Skydive Carolina / Chester County Airport currently in Class B airspace?
No. No changes have been made as of yet. There is a due process that is required
when changing the parameters of Class B airspace. Many discussions (such as the one's we are having with the FAA) are still in order before the redrawing of aerials occurs.

When will the Class B revisions go into effect?
The class B proposal and revisions will be changed late in 2009 in time for the new operation for the airport (third runway) in 2010.

If Skydive Carolina is forced to operate within Class B, will the DZ shut down?
If forced to operate within Class B, Skydive Carolina does not have the intention of closing down. For the last 23 years, Skydive Carolina has always maintained a strong relationship with Charlotte ATC. Despite not being in Class B, Skydive Carolina pilots have always communicated with Charlotte ATC to ensure that we are clear to drop. Sometimes, Charlotte ATC requests that we go around and we have always obliged without ever a problem in an effort to accommodate the needs for Charlotte ATC.

The truth of the matter is that an air traffic controller would hesitate to ask our jump aircraft to go around as it makes it more work intensive for an ATC controller. If the aircraft has to go-around it requires the controller to have to continually watch the jump aircraft. A controller would prefer to create a slot for the jump aircraft allowing us to drop and then have the aircraft and jumpers be out of the way in order to continue with the push for commercial traffic.

Will skydiving become more unsafe if operating within Class B airspace?
If anything, skydiving would become more safe as ATC would be more focused on us and be required to give clearance in order to drop. That's not to say that human error can't occur on the part of a controller, but as it stands, the procedure for allowing Skydive Carolina to drop would be no different than the way we are currently operating. Skydivers will need to be more vocal to Skydive Carolina personnel and the pilot if there is an intent to open at an altitude at or above 4,000 feet.

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