FAA eases some flight restrictions

By Bryan Corliss

Herald Writer

The Federal Aviation Administration has lifted some restrictions on airplane flights to allow student pilots to do solo flights in the tightly controlled airspaces around metropolitan areas.

Recreational fliers still remain grounded in those areas, however. As a result, "We’re probably only up to about 60 to 70 percent" of pre-attack business levels, said Brenda Jones, an aircraft dispatcher with Northway Aviation at Paine Field.

The new rules were issued Friday afternoon. They allow student pilots to do solo flights using visual flight rules in what the FAA calls "enhanced Class B" airspace — the area around and above major airports and cities.

"It’s eliminated that hassle there," Jones said. "We can do solo flying from our own airport."

Paine Field is within the Class B space around Seattle and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Training flights were grounded in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The restrictions were eased somewhat on Sept. 21 to allow student pilots to fly solo — using instruments or visual cues — outside of metro areas.

For flight schools such as Northway, that meant instructors could take off from Paine Field and fly to small airfields such as Arlington Airport. After landing, student pilots then could take the plane and fly solo to other outlying airports.

That put flight schools "largely back in business," Jones said.

Friday’s changes now allow student pilots to do their solo training over metro areas, as long as they are supervised. That means they must have prior authorization from an instructor, and an instructor must monitor their flights by radio.

News and traffic helicopters remained grounded within metro airspace, as do sightseeing flights, planes pulling banners, and blimps and airships, according to the FAA’s notice to pilots.

Special temporary restrictions around Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., also remain in place.

And certified pilots using visual cues, not instruments, still are banned from Class B space.

"This is absurd!" said Phil Boyer, president of the national Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association in a message posted on the group’s Web site. "What this means is student can fly solo, (using visual flight rules) in Class B airspace, but his/her highly trained and licensed (instructor) cannot."

You can call Herald Writer Bryan Corliss at 425-339-3454

or send e-mail to corliss@heraldnet.com.

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