Getting to HAI, flying was the easy part (mostly)

 - February 19, 2007, 6:54 AM

Unlike previous HAI Conventions, the fly-in of display aircraft for Heli-Expo’05 was anything but routine as pilots of incoming helos had to contend with not only restricted airspace but also blustery northeast Santa Ana winds that combined to complicate arrivals last Wednesday and Thursday.

First, before show aircraft could enter the temporary flight restriction (TFR) area surrounding Disneyland, it was necessary for HAI, with city of Anaheim concurrence, to have the Anaheim Convention Center designated a temporary heliport, for Heli-Expo flight operations only. Then the association worked with the FAA’s Western Pacific Region and Long Beach Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) to survey and certify the landing site, establish an entry point, an arrival corridor and specific flight procedures. As a potential terrorist target post 9/11, Disneyland is protected by a permanent TFR from the surface to 3,000 feet, within a three-nautical-mile radius from the center of the theme park.

Before flying onto the convention center grounds, all pilots were required to attend detailed briefings conducted by Heli-Expo flight operations director Dick Wright on the mornings of February 2 and 3. These dealt with the boundary of the Anaheim flight restricted zone, the arrival route and predetermined altitudes, procedures and communication frequencies. He strongly cautioned pilots that any deviation from the prescribed routing, or overflight of Disneyland proper, could result in an FAA violation.

The entry point and visual reporting points along the arrival corridor are defined by a freeway junction about four miles southeast of the convention center and major streets leading into the Disneyland neighborhood. Arrivals remained at 1,000 feet from the entry point, flying north and then west until a half-mile from the convention center. They then turned south to enter a right-hand traffic pattern, descending to 500 feet on base leg and approaching the landing zone from the south.

At these briefings, each pilot was assigned a spot within a two-hour time block. It was mandatory that every aircraft arrive at the entry point within its assigned time block. At mid-morning Wednesday, this precise flight schedule began operating as helos headed toward Anaheim from nearby staging points at John Wayne Orange County, Fullerton, Long Beach and Torrance airports.

Flight operations on each day were limited to between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. On Wednesday, 22 helicopters alighted on the parking lot along the convention center’s west side. Twenty more landed there the next day.

To further spice up the proceedings, one of Southern California’s notorious late-winter Santa Ana wind conditions began Wednesday morning and lasted through Thursday evening, blowing steadily at 25 to 30 knots with gusts more than 40. On Thursday, a Sigmet forecast winds of up to 60 knots throughout the L.A. basin. Fortunately, winds were less than predicted.

Nevertheless, helo pilots found the approach to the convention center sporting, to say the least. Many stated that turbulence caused by wind flowing over the buildings made the last few feet a challenge. No mishaps, wind-related or otherwise, occurred, however.

No departures will be permitted until the close of Heli-Expo’05 at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Since the convention center heliport is approved for day VFR-only operations, no takeoffs will occur after 5:30 p.m. Departures will resume at 8 a.m. and continue until noon Wednesday. The same stringent requirements for ATC clearances and adherence to precise navigation through the designated TFR corridor will prevail for departures.

Wright said that this year is the first in which HAI has had to deal with airspace restrictions at a convention site. He credited “outstanding cooperation from the FAA, specifically John Goldfluss of the Western Region and Gary Lackey at the Long Beach FSDO, who made it possible to get what could have been a two-year process completed in a couple of months.”