Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Sunday, October 21, 2001

FAA controls pilot training
over residential areas

Question: The last few weeks in Mililani have been wonderful without the constant noise of small aircraft overhead. These aircraft, presumably flight instruction or similar flights, are generally single-engine airplanes flying at low altitude and have been a nuisance for years.

The recent FAA grounding has made us appreciate how annoying they are and perhaps a safety concern as well. The planes often fly early in the morning or at night and on weekends at very low altitudes directly over our homes. What's scary is that they often cut their engines or go into intentional stalls. What are the rules about flight instruction or similar flights over residential neighborhoods, especially in light of recent developments? Are there certain hours and altitude restrictions? And are stalls and engine cutoffs allowed directly over people's homes?

Answer: Although the lack of flights brought relief to you and other Mililani residents, it had a devastating economic impact on small flight operators.

"General aviation was completely shut down for a period of about two weeks after the Sept. 11th attacks," said David S. Ryon, aviation safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration's Honolulu Flight Standards District Office. "This hit many of our operators extremely hard and has put many on the brink of bankruptcy."

The FAA has since allowed general aviation to resume training, but with increased controls.

The "South Practice Area" in the vicinity of Mililani has been the approved site of flight instruction for years, beginning when the area was dominated by pineapple fields and open areas.

But because that's changed with the development of Central Oahu, Ryon said the FAA and local flight schools have been encouraging flight instructors and students to practice in the "North Practice Area," a large open area northeast of Wheeler Army Airfield, as well as in the "Acrobatic Box" offshore, north of Dillingham Field.

Because of the growing number of residential complaints, the FAA "will increase our emphasis on using these alternate areas," he said.

Regarding hours of operation, Honolulu Airport operates 24 hours a day and the FAA has no restrictions on hours of operation. So, for example, night flight training and night cross-country flying are authorized. "While flying, the aircraft will have a unique code which allows Air Traffic Control to track it," Ryon said.

Regarding flights over residential neighborhoods, FAA regulations state that except for takeoff or landing, "no person may operate an aircraft over a congested area below an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft."

Also, "over other than congested areas, an aircraft must maintain an altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure."

However, helicopters may be flown "at less than the minimums prescribed, provided the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface," Ryon said. Helicopter operators also must comply with any routes or altitudes set for helicopters by the FAA.

Regarding engine cutoffs, Ryon said there are no restrictions on reducing the throttle in airplanes, even to the flight idle position. "This is a normal and safe procedure for losing altitude, leveling off, etc.," he said. "The engine is still running at this point, but there will be a change in engine noise.

"Even in single-engine aircraft, there is a significant amount of redundancy built into the aircraft systems."

Regarding stalls over people's homes: "A pilot operating an aircraft in slow flight to a gentle stall with a moderate recovery and remaining 1,500 feet above the homes would probably be in compliance with the regulations, although we would not recommend such a procedure," Ryon said. "However, a pilot who makes an abrupt change in the aircraft attitude and stalls, followed by an aggressive diving acceleration below 1,500 feet above homes would not be in compliance with the regulations."

FAA regulations also state that no one may operate an aircraft in aerobatic flight (meaning an intentional maneuver involving a sudden change in altitude, an "abnormal altitude or abnormal acceleration" not necessary for normal flight) over any "congested" area or below an altitude of 1,500 feet above the surface.

Q: Is there any agency that provides a comparison of automobile insurance costs in Hawaii?

A: The state Insurance Division, part of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, publishes a comparison of rates. You can get a copy by either calling the division at 586-2790, or by going to its Web site: http://www.state. Click on "insurance publications."

The current survey was released in December 2000, but reflects the rates for 1999.

It shows a sample of premiums for licensed insurance companies for a driver deemed a "clean risk" and with one speeding conviction.

An apology

I would like to apologize to the driver of a blue BMW whom I inadvertently honked at about 6:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 5, at the Dillingham offramp. When approaching the red light, I unknowingly leaned on my steering wheel, which caused the horn to honk very loudly. I was not honking because you did not proceed through the yellow light. I'm very sorry for my carelessness. -- Fatigued Mom

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