FAA Backs Up Vow to Get Tough With Pilots Who Violate Airspace

Times Staff Writers

The Federal Aviation Administration released statistics Thursday showing that it has begun to “turn up the heat” on pilots who violate the restricted airspace around Los Angeles International Airport.

FAA official Tim Forte said 39 fliers have been notified that they could lose their pilot’s certification because of unauthorized intrusion into the airspace of the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area (TCA) since last Sept 1. He said the 39 citations in a 5 1/2-month period compare with a total of 24 in the year that preceded it.

Thus far, two of the 39 cases have resulted in certificate suspensions, with the remainder still under adjudication.

The director of the FAA’s Western-Pacific Region, H. C. (Mac) McClure, said the stepped-up enforcement was prompted by the midair collision of an Aeromexico jetliner and a light plane over Cerritos last Aug. 31.


That collision, which claimed 82 lives, occurred within the Los Angeles TCA, airspace normally reserved for airliners landing or taking off at LAX. A pilot is not supposed to enter the TCA unless he has permission from air traffic controllers and unless he has an on-board “Mode C” transponder--a device that enables controllers to pinpoint his location and altitude. Federal investigators said the light plane involved in the Aeromexico crash apparently had neither.

“We will not tolerate violations of the TCA,” McClure said. “We will turn up the heat.”

McClure said the FAA’s increased efforts to protect TCAs have included seminars to familiarize pilots with the perimeters of TCAs and the rules governing their use. In addition, he said, the FAA is coming up with better methods of catching violators.

He said one of these methods involves the use of a special “data tag” that controllers can attach electronically to suspected intruders appearing on their screens. These tags make it easier to track intruders by radar to an eventual landing at an airport, where they can be identified.


Forte said the FAA completed a total of 120 investigations involving apparently unauthorized intrusions into the Western-Pacific Region’s five TCAs--surrounding airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas and Honolulu--between Sept. 1 and Jan. 31. Another 40 cases are still under investigation.

Of the 120 inquiries, he said, 58% involved private pilots, 25% involved commercial pilots, 8% involved air transport pilots (the more experienced commercial pilots who fly airliners) and 4% involved student pilots. He did not account for the other 5%.

Forte said 21 of these cases were dropped for insufficient evidence, seven were referred to the Defense Department because of the apparent involvement of military aircraft and 92 resulted in notices that the pilot’s certificate might be suspended.

FAA officials said a pilot who receives a suspension notice is given an opportunity to explain the TCA violation. If the FAA decides that the explanation is not good enough, the pilot’s certificate is suspended for a minimum of 60 days. In “aggravated cases,” a suspension of up to 180 days, or even outright revocation, can be ordered. Pilots can appeal the FAA’s rulings to the National Transportation Safety Board.


Los Angeles City Atty. James K. Hahn recently joined the crusade to reduce midair collisions, announcing two “criminal investigations” of pilots suspected of “reckless flying” that may have endangered nearby aircraft.

But DeWittee Lawson Jr., regional counsel for the FAA, said Thursday that he has “serious reservations” about Hahn’s proposals for criminal prosecutions of TCA violators and other possibly careless pilots.

For one thing, Lawson said, most TCA violations “are inadvertent and lack criminal intent.” For another, he said, criminal prosecutions might undermine the “traditional cooperation” between pilots and regulating agencies.

Lawson said he plans to meet with Hahn in the next few days to resolve their differences.


FAA ENFORCEMENTA breakdown of FAA notifications of alleged TCA intrusions by regions.

Area / No. Violations

Los Angeles 39

San Diego 15


San Francisco 10

Las Vegas 39

Honolulu 6