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It was a dark and stormy night … or it was a smoky afternoon … or the fog rolled in early …
In your plane, are two friends who are helping you plan your retirement property near Mendocino. Or you are flying your disabled wife who can’t travel comfortably for long distances except in your plane. Or you are visiting a new client for your medical software product.
Or you are practicing instrument procedures so you can qualify for a career with the airlines. Or you are flying employees for a defense contractor who commute to San Diego daily for a year-long project. Or you donated this trip to Angel Flight West to fly a child and her parent to San Diego for cancer treatment.
You are an instrument-rated pilot licensed by the FAA to fly in bad weather. Before flying, you checked the weather forecast, checked the navigation charts, checked the airport information, and planned a safe route. You are talking by radio to FAA controllers in that concrete building by I-15 and Miramar Road, the one with no windows and lots of antennas on the roof. You can’t see the ground but you know where you are.
You are flying about 120 mph, in the clouds, concentrating on the instruments, the radio, and the chart that will guide you. You are following the instrument approach procedure to Montgomery Field that takes you out over Gillespie Field, Mount Helix, Lake Murray, Murphy Canyon — except you can’t see any of that, but it’s on the chart. As you descend closer to the airport, you are looking for lights, pavement markings, anything to confirm you have the runway in sight. If you haven’t seen it by 880 feet above sea level, or 450 feet above the airport, then you have to try it again or go elsewhere. Once it’s in sight, you can begin maneuvering to land in the 300 foot flight safety area that begins 150 feet above the airport.
Tonight, because the winds are from the wrong direction, you have to circle to another runway while keeping the airport in sight at all times. Lose sight and you must climb away and try it again or go elsewhere.
Pilots usually fly in the left seat and prefer to keep the runway to their left so they can easily look sideways and forward to make these turns. In my plane, it takes about a mile to make a U-turn at 120 mph, so I’m flying away from the runway, towards Balboa Avenue, planning to slow down, descend and turn, then fly over the In-N-Out burger and land on the runway.
Except now there is a hazard to air navigation looming in your path. You are looking for the dim red lights that mark the roof of the Sunroad building. But you have to keep the runway in sight. You are checking your altitude. But you have stay below the clouds. You are maneuvering for the turn. But you have to avoid fixating on the target you are trying not to hit.
Why did anyone allow this building to be this tall in this location in close proximity to an airport designed and certified for use in bad weather? The FAA and Caltrans Division of Aeronautics fund improvements to airports to make them safer and easier to use in all weather. Federal regulations, state law and city zoning are supposed to protect airports from encroachment by development. Why do we lose some utility of the national air transportation system when the developer breaks the rules?
The Sunroad Centrum 12 office tower is a hazard to air navigation. But I’m the one who faces the risk of an accident. What’s up with that?