Hang Gliding or Paragliding Near Airliners at Burbank Airport

Questions were raised by a long time hang glider pilot about increased sightings of jets crossing their popular soaring site, Sylmar. It’s about 12 miles northwest of Burbank Airport in CA and has good flying most of the year.

It turns out that at least one airline has a new RNAV (computer flown) visual approach to runway 15 that puts them really close to a commonly used “spine” on the mountain. Thermals are wicked up these spines, making them common hangouts for hang glider (HG) and paraglider (PG) pilots. Legally, the HG/PG pilots can be there. So I got looking and overlaid the newly created RNAV visual RW 15 that airlines are using on a sectional (Terminal Area Chart, actually) to see where their computers are taking them. It’s below.

Hang gliders (or any ultralight) ARE allowed to fly inside the dashed magenta lines that include BATTT & MATRX because these are not “designated for an airport.” See this for an explanation of the difference. The other locations are fair game., too Of course the hang gliders bear the legal responsibility to keep clear but a planeload of dead people, or their congresspersons, won’t care. So we should collectively work to mitigate the risk.

Don’t think of solutions, think of mitigations. Here are my suggestions.

1. Hang glider pilots should avoid flying in this area given what we know about the route. Yup, it’s legal now, but a lot of things used to be legal.

2. The airlines (at least one) already caution their pilots about hang gliders there but reality is that this is a very busy approach and pilots may not spend much time scanning. Yes, of course, they should, but I’m simply doling out airline cockpit reality on an approach that tends to end with excess energy. The airlines should suggest using another runway when possible to avoid this risk.

3. ATC should advise pilots if they know hang gliding operations are taking place. That would require cooperation with the Sylmar Soaring Association which they’ve offered to render.

4. Hang glider and paraglider pilots flying in close proximity to airliners or any aircraft traffic for that matter, should carry a portable transponder or ADS-B out so the jet’s collision avoidance equipment can warn of your presence.

5. Of last resort is the minimally effective “see and avoid.” Keep a good lookout on both sides of the window pane.

Airline arrival routes into Burbank airport with points where hang gliders or paragliders may conflict.