Flying the Hudson

by | 2019-01-20
The Grand Lady, New-York
The Grand Lady

(The river, not the bay)

The pleasure to safely fly in perfect legality requires a certain effort. This effort sometimes required will be largely compensated by wonderful discoveries.

Many sights on earth deserve to be overflown: the Alps, the Rockies, a tour around the Gaspesian Peninsula, the Sahara, Iceberg Alley (Newfoundland), Arizona,,, Name it, I will be glad to add it to this bucket list.

Otherwise, it is nearly impossible to overfly at low level major world cities, especially after 2001. Can you imagine at a thousand feet flying over Paris, London, Rome, Tokyo or Mexico? If it is not due to restricted airspace, the level of traffic, rightfully so, will forbid a cool sortie to impress visiting friends.

Except New-York!

There exist a hidden pleasure in the fact that the FAA has reserved special airspace to fly « low level » (1000 feet) along the Hudson River without ATC intervention. New-York being a mere 290 nautical miles south of Montreal, one can easily plan for a single day outing.

And what a sight awaits you: a surreal world admired from the comfort of your favourite aircraft!

The FAA has created a special Flight rule Area – SFRA – that they call « the Hudson River Exclusion Area ». It is not meant to exclude you but being what they are, they think for themselves, really. The area is excluded from class B airspace.

Once on the spot, the published procedure is not complicated to follow. One must follow the rules, fly with accuracy not much space for creativity here, the window is a mere 299 feet high and keep your eyes out for traffic. What do you expect, it’s New-York after all!

Prior departure a bit of planing is required. A basic item to accomplish a successful journey as we all know.

Other than the cross-border requirement that must respected, it will be quite appropriate to familiarize oneself with the local procedures.

For the cross-border ops you have two options and it depends on the range of your aircraft and/or your passengers. First a custom clearance can accomplished at let’s say KBTV, ditto on the way back. The other option is simply to file a return flight plan with no tech stop on the way.

It is highly recommended taking the online course offered amongst many by the FAA at no cost. This is where you will acquaint yourself with all the details pertaining to the Hudson River operation. There is also a condensed kneeboard format document available New-York Class B Airspace Hudson River and East River Exclusion (SFRA).

As a quick reference it is required to fly the river between 1000 feet up to not including 1300 feet, landing lights on, all anti-collision on and maximum speed of 140 kts. Who wants to go faster, it’s such a hoot to be there! Southbound you must stay on the right and yes northbound, fly on the right!

A continuous listening watch must be maintained on the CTAF (Common Traffic Advisory Frequency), it is our equivalent of an ATF on 123,05. Mandatory position reports must be made at certain landmarks and most correct phraseology must be used. Be aware by obvious necessity ATC monitors the frequency. No hesitation here on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the place is busy!

This said, nothing else to report. Should you deal with ATC on your way southbound, prior entering the SFRA, they will advise you with a legal warning of what you are about to do. Be advised! Then you fly all the way southbound, no 180 allowed and then turn around coming back on the other shore. You may go round and round all day if want!

Northbound on the Hudson River
Flying downtown New-York.

From the start, the view is absolutely impressive. You overfly bridges at altitudes that would get a few F-18’s airborne back home. The buildings are scraping the sky much higher than your own height. A tall lady waits for you on the other end. You may turn around here, following the procedure without alarming the noise police back home.

A good tip to follow when heading back north: should you have done the customs thing, do not forget to activate your cross-border flight plan. The Americans do not automatically activate flight plans like us, risking an unpleasant surprise on arrival.

Concluding this, please note that this article was solely meant to inform. This is not a formal instruction scheme and any pilot must be totally up to date with publications and air regulation domestically or otherwise.

Pleasant flight!

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