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Remarks October 2019 Issue

Bigger Class B?

The Miami Class B has a problem. There’s a seldom-followed regulation, 91.131(a)(2), saying large turbine-powered aircraft—essentially a King Air 350 and larger—operating from a primary Class B airport, must remain in the Class B airspace. The problem in Miami is that many aircraft descend below the floor of the Class B.

The FAA’s solution isn’t education or even enforcement; it’s expansion of the Class B plus an unrelated expansion of nearby Fort Lauderdale’s Class C.

While we all want to maximize safety, 91.131(a)(2) exists for systemic separation between the big boys at the big airports, and the little guys who find themselves skirting the busy airspace below the floor, while quite legally not even talking to ATC. If those little guys go nose to nose with an Airbus 380 who ignorantly and probably innocently strayed below that Class B floor, it could be a bad day indeed.

Do you think this expansion is good, bad, or irrelevant? If you fly “large turbine-powered aircraft” in or out of Miami, you might think this is a good change—keep those annoying little bugsmashers out of your way.

But, imagine you’re a VFR pilot in southeast Florida and you want to transit the Miami Class B airspace along the coast. I’m told that requesting a Class B VFR clearance there is usually met with a simple, “Unable. Remain clear.” Okay, that doesn’t work.

With the proposed Class B enlargement, you might have to fly lower than is prudent, an imprudent distance off shore, or many miles out of your way to the west. If so, you probably think this change is bad.

But to most of the rest of us this could be just a local issue that’s irrelevant to us. Really? Is there a Class B anywhere around where you fly? Chances are there is. If Miami makes this change, you can bet that it will be viewed as a model for possible changes at other (all?) Class B airspace. Even the FAA plays “camel’s nose under the tent.”

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I used to fly out of an airport on the coast just south of the San Francisco Class B. While controllers tried to permit transit, there was no guarantee. If they also have a 91.131(a)(2) problem, that Miami solution would seem attractive to San Francisco. The result for VFR traffic on a trip headed north might be to add up to 100 miles or more to bypass the Class B to the east, or a deviation far out over the Pacific Ocean, neither of which is an attractive alternative.

I’ve never (yet) flown in southeast Florida, but before expanding the size of the Miami Class B airspace to solve this problem, I’d like to see the FAA explore education and enforcement options first. Failing that, perhaps the existing floors—but not the lateral boundaries—could be lowered a bit to encompass most of the violations and/or they could establish VFR corridors to serve the seven nearby airports. I absolutely don’t want this to become a model for expanding all our Class B airspace; they’re big enough.

—Frank Bowlin

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