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FAA to not reduce Covingtons airspace
Efforts to make Hartsfield-Jackson safer wont harm Covington
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Covington airport could be hurt by proposed changes (Feb. 14) -

The Federal Aviation Administration has listened to the concerns of Covington officials and will not be making any major changes to the way planes fly into and out of Covington Municipal Airport.

Because of increased airplane traffic into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the FAA is considering changing the controlled airspace around the airport, known as Class B airspace, to improve safety and efficiency for larger commercial traffic.

How Class B Airspace Works
Class B airspace is found around all of the country's major airports, and is a highly regulated form of airspace. In order to enter Class B airspace, pilots must receive permission from a major airport's air traffic controllers. Normally, only commercial carriers, like Delta Airlines and the hundreds of other U.S. commercial airlines, receive permission to fly in this airspace, which keeps it clear and safe.

Class B airspace is often described as an upside down wedding cake. Immediately above and surrounding Hartsfield-Jackson, nothing except commercial planes are allowed to fly. However, further from the airport, private planes are allowed to fly, but only below a certain height. The commercial planes fly above the private planes.

This maximum height under which private planes are allowed to fly increases in steps as a plane moves further away from Hartsfield-Jackson; similar to how the layers of an upside-down wedding cake would ascend and widen out. Eventually, Class B airspace ends and private planes have much more freedom to fly; at these distances from airports commercial planes are at much greater heights.

The current Class B airspace expands over much of Newton County; but the layer over the Covington airport doesn't begin until 8,000 feet above the ground. The vast majority of private planes, recreational and small business, don't fly that high and are largely unaffected.

The Class B airspace around Atlanta has not been changed by the FAA since 1977, but traffic into and out of Hartsfield-Jackson has nearly doubled over the past 33 years. More than 970,000 takeoffs and landings took place at Hartsfield-Jackson in 2009, according to a 2010 FAA PowerPoint presentation. A fifth runway opened at the airport in 2006, which has further increased traffic.

Because of the increased traffic, the FAA said the current Class B airspace has become congested. Planes taking off and landing have to ensure that they maintain the proper level of vertical separation. As a result, more and more commercial planes are flying outside of Class B airspace. Because planes must receive permission to enter Class B airspace, and must be informed by air traffic control when they are leaving Class B airspace, the burden on air traffic controllers has increased substantially.

Planes that do manage to remain in the Class B airspace during their entire approach often have to take inefficient routes to do so.

"Safety and efficiency are compromised when aircraft leave the Class B airspace," a previous FAA presentation stated.

Proposed Changes to Class B
In order to solve this problem, the FAA has proposed changing the Class B airspace. The original proposal called for airspace to be lowered at all levels and expanded further from Hartsfield-Jackson. Over the Covington airport, the airspace was supposed to be lowered to 4,000 feet.

Local city officials, pilots and residents were concerned by this proposal. First of all, local pilots would have to fly below 4,000 feet, giving them less space to fly in and causing them to fly lower to the ground, which could increase noise.

The FAA said that no routes or flight paths would be changed; the Class B airspace would just be molded to how the traffic is already flying. However, local officials and residents worried that commercial planes might fly even lower than they do now, and increase noise pollution.

The FAA and Georgia Department of Transportation formed a committee of airport officials from the numerous smaller, satellite, airports around Atlanta to discuss the effects of the proposed changes on local aviators.

In a draft of its recommendations, the committee members expressed concern over safety hazards for general aviation, as well as the possibility that planes at these satellite airports around Atlanta would experience delays.

Covington Transportation Manager Billy Skinner attended these meetings and because of his input, the committee recognized that the lowered airspace over Covington could adversely affect its future as an effective satellite and reliever airport for Hartsfield-Jackson. It recommended that the floor above Covington remain at 8,000 feet.

City Officials Happy with Latest Proposal
The FAA took the recommendations and went a step further, reducing Covington from the Class B airspace. During Thursday's information meetings at Covington City Hall, FAA officials presented the newest proposal. The Class B airspace now ends 1.5 miles west of Covington.

"The only reason we cut it off to the west was because a representative from Covington said we could eliminate the new floor over Covington without hurting safety," presenter Mike Richardson, an FAA support manager for Atlanta, said after the meeting. "We didn't come out demanding changes. We agreed with the committees that there were areas where we could improve."

Richardson said the proposed changes to the airspace wouldn't have any effect on residents or pilots. Lance Flynn, chairman of the Covington Airport Advisory Committee, agreed. He said pilots flying to Covington from the west might have to be moved a little farther around Atlanta than previously.

Flynn said he appreciated the efforts of the FAA to mitigate the effect on local pilots, and he applauded efforts to help out Atlanta air traffic controllers, who are some of the best in the nation.

City Manager Steve Horton, who is also the city's airport manager, said this proposal change was exactly what the city had been hoping to see.

City officials have made improving the airport one of their top priorities in recent years, and have spent nearly $10 million to lengthen and repave the runway and upgrade other facilities. An airport authority to improve airport management even further is expected to be created soon.