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Elsewhere in the Café, Sunroad’s lobbyist raised an intriguing proposition:

Simply look around downtown San Diego to see that the main flight path to Lindbergh Field has many building protruding above the FAA’s so-called horizontal barrier. In fact, most airports have these so-called “intrusions” without them being labeled unsafe. But, we can debate that matter at another time.

Let me debate that now.

The regulations that control obstructions and hazards to air navigation are issued by the Federal Aviation Administration in accordance with Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations Part 77, “Objects Affecting Navigable Airspace” (14 CFR Part 77).

Yup, there in section 77.25, Civil airport imaginary surfaces, it defines a horizontal surface “150 feet above the established airport elevation” that extends outward for 10,000 feet (just under 2 miles) from the runways at Montgomery Field and Lindbergh Field.

So, it certainly seems odd that high-rise buildings in downtown San Diego wouldn’t trigger a hazard determination like the Sunroad building. The Sunroad building is only 180 feet tall while the downtown high-rises are 400 feet or more above the ground.

Keep reading.

Your building gets to be a hazard for more reasons than violating the horizontal surface. Any object that is more than 2,000 feet above the ground anywhere in the country is a hazard (because planes planes are allowed to fly lower than that).

Section 77.23(a)(3) sets additional standards. Any object is an obstruction when located within the areas needed for approach, departure or circling procedures and intrude upon the minimum bad-weather flight-altitude.

That’s the rule that got the Sunroad building.

Montgomery Field has six runways (count both ends of the three strips of pavement), but only one runway has an approach procedure. So, pilots need circling procedures to land on the runway that best suits the wind conditions. We follow the approach procedure through the clouds to one runway, but if need be, we circle to land on a more suitable runway. And in bad weather, the FAA certifies that the minimum flight-altitude will allow for 300 feet above any obstruction.

The get-out-of-hazard-jail-free-card comes from the concept of “shielding” by natural terrain or existing structures.

If your building is the first obstruction, it becomes a hazard.

After that, the next building may be shielded “where it is evident beyond all reasonable doubt that the structure so shielded will not adversely affect safety in air navigation.”

Downtown high-rise buildings are shielded by the high terrain of Hillcrest and Balboa Park.

Sunroad stands out like a proverbial sore thumb!

The FAA doesn’t want your building to be first; they don’t want hazards near airports. They and the Caltrans Division of Aeronautics work really hard to increase the utility of airports to operate in all kinds of weather. New approach procedures that rely upon enhanced GPS technology can allow planes to safely land in poor weather when the clouds are only 200 to 300 feet above the ground.

These improvements help people get to where they want to go and avoid being diverted because of low clouds or fog to some other airport far away.

A 180-foot building that intrudes upon minimum flight-altitude for the circling procedures to Montgomery Field is a hazard to air navigation. Temporarily, while resolving the hazard, the FAA changes the procedures and issues notices to raise those minimums. Since that decreases the utility of airports, they consider that going in the wrong direction. So, they really don’t want to be forced to accept it. And California law reinforces that notion by designating as public nuisances any hazard to air navigation constructed without a permit from the Division of Aeronautics.

At Lindbergh Field, those buildings and the terrain have already forced the FAA to increase the minimum flight-altitude above typical, to steepen the slope of descents into the airport above normal, and to narrow the lateral guidance because of obstacles like those downtown buildings. All this makes Lindberg a challenge, such that airline pilots are given special “airport qualification” charts to familiarize themselves before flying here.

The FAA determined the Sunroad Centrum 12 building is a hazard to air navigation. California law declares it a public nuisance.

Sunroad, stop making excuses. Obey the law.

— RICK BEACH

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