FAA considers new air routes over Anchorage

Posted: Sunday, December 09, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- 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, Curt Faulk, the FAA's air traffic support manager at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, told The Anchorage Daily News.

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 said.

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.

''That's our biggest worry -- Point MacKenzie,'' he said. Some Anchorage-area aviators bristled at the proposals Friday night, 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 over the icy waters of Cook Inlet or the Dimond Center. One proposed route would take small-plane pilots to 600 feet or lower over the Inlet. Another would direct them over the shopping center.

''This is avoid wake turbulence at all costs,' '' Christy said.

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.

Officials Friday night also reassured pilots that air traffic controllers will grant exceptions to the routes case by case.

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