Category Archives: Chicago Executive Airport

Class B: Inside or Out, Be Aware of Invisible Lines in the Sky

Class B PWKClass B airspace is a three-dimensional sculpture defined by invisible lines of altitudes and radial distances from the airport that anchors this funnel of protected airspace to the ground. In our case, that’s Chicago O’Hare International. Before the advent of moving map technology that, if enabled, makes these boundaries visible, pilots had to keep close track of their position relative to them. Apparently, technology has not solved the Class B incursion and excursion problem. If it had, would the FAA have issued a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO 17001) dedicated to this issue?

Chicago Exec is tucked into a Class B notch in ORD’s 10-mile ring. It’s like an attic bedroom, with narrow walls that angle toward a narrow ceiling just 3,000 feet above the ground. Considering the number of aircraft the share this small alcove, and the speed at which they fly, it’s not a lot a room, especially when Mother Nature is in a meteorological mood. Making aviator awareness of aircraft position even more important are the winged behemoths above the line that are descending toward O’Hare.

The SAFO addresses both Class B incursions and excursions. Not singling out any specific Class B airspace, it says that some instrument approaches that take an airplane operating in Class B across the line, and then back in. Other excursions occur when pilots sink, for a moment, below a glide path that scrapes the floor of that Class B layer. If there’s another airplane outside of the Class B that’s crowding the boundary altitude, or if either airplane hasn’t accurately set its altimeter, bad things can happen. If they are lucky, they will escape with Near Mid Air Collision (NMAC) and the resulting increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Now pilots know that they need clearance from Air Traffic Control (ATC) to enter Class B airspace, and it’s the controllers job to keep airplanes in Class B airspace from inadvertent meetings. And they do a world-class job of it. But they may not be working airplanes on the other side of the line. When these dedicated pros get busy, which means a heavy load of traffic, the SAFO explained, ATC may give an airplane instructions that will take it across the line, which is why pilots must always know where they are relative to that boundary. Why? Because “they may not be advised of such an event during times of high controller workload.”

And if ATC is busy, the chances of aircraft outside Class B getting flight following are nonexistent to not good. In other words, it behooves pilots on both sides of the line to not only know where they are relative to it, but to also keep their eyes open and searching and not depend on ATC to find and call out the traffic for them.

The SAFO recommends that pilots review and brief the Class B boundaries when their flight will be in or near it. And they should compare those boundaries to the instrument approaches they might fly and where they are relative to the Class B airspace. Whether the approach begins just below or just above the floor of a Class B layer, think of it as scud running through a maze, a situation in which there is little or no room for error, especially when following ATC vectors. Pilots should always be aware of their position relative to the maze’s vertical and horizontal invisible lines and redouble their see & avoid scan when they get close to either side of the line.

FAA Publishes Practical Guidance for TALPA Winter Safety Ops

imageResponding to questions about what all the changes to the braking reporting system means to pilots and airport operators, the FAA published Draft Change 1 to AC 150/5200-30D, Airport Field Condition Assessments and Winter Operations Safety. The updated AC guides airport operators, although much of the information will also interest pilots because their safety depends on their knowledge and understanding the new Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA) programs. The industry has only until this Friday, January 13 to comment on the changes however, so read on.

The Seven Principal Changes

1. Airports will not report a Wet runway when a Slippery When Wet NOTAM is in effect

As part of pavement maintenance, airports conduct a friction survey to make sure it meets minimum prescribed values for skid resistance. If the pavement meets or exceeds this minimum value, when its Wet, according to the Runway Condition Assessment Matrix, it gets a Runway Condition Code (RwyCC) of 5, which stands for Good braking action. (The Runway Condition Codes replaces Mu values and indicate braking action, which is based on the Runway Condition Matrix that is based on the type and depth of precipitation.)

If the pavement does not meet the minimum friction requirements, the entire runway is Slippery When Wet, and it starts with a Runway Condition Code of (RwyCC) of 3, which means the braking action is Medium. As Mother Nature makes additional wintery deposits on a Slippery When Wet runway, the airport must downgrade the entire runway with a RwyCC of a lower value, 2  or 1 (braking action is medium-to-poor or poor respectively).

2. Emphasizing the unacceptable aspects of reporting friction (Mu) values to pilots

Airports still use Mu friction values for some things, such as friction surveys after pavement maintenance and determining the effectiveness of “friction-enhancing treatments” (such as putting urea on ice or brooming the snow off a grooved runway), but the FAA says reporting Mu number to pilots “is no longer acceptable” because there has been “no consistent, useable correlation between Mu values” and braking action.

3. Describing when a Wet condition report is associated with other winter contaminants

Airports will report  the runway as “Wet” when water 1/8-inch (3 mm) or less “is the only condition present on the runway.” The same applies to taxiways, aprons, and holding bays. Airports will also report the surface as ‘Wet’ conditions when other winter contaminants, or chemicals applied, appear in any particular third of the runway.

4. Explaining how airports generates their runway surface condition reports

A single runway surface condition report, generated for each active runway, allows pilots to identify Mother Nature’s winter “contaminants” on each third of the runway and understand how each will most affect aircraft performance. The new AC says, “Reporting from both ends of the same runway may cause confusion to pilots by advertising two sets of Runway Condition Codes for the same surface. This redundancy also unnecessarily clutters the NOTAM system which also adversely affect pilots.”

image5. Details on special mitigation options

Airports must update runway condition reports any time there is a change in the runway surface, this includes the airport’s efforts to improve the runway conditions, which could lead to a higher RwyCC. The takeaway for pilots is that they should monitor an airport’s Field Condition (FICON) NOTAMs for updates and changes for the best information.

6. Clarifying Use of Conditions Not Monitored NOTAMs

When a small airport’s staff, weary of fighting Mother Nature, needs some sleep, they’ll issue a “Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM, which includes the last field condition reported before going to bed. In this situation, airports should not use an Airport Unattended NOTAM as a substitute because it conveys inaccurate news about whether or not the airport staff, ATC, FBOs, and other airport services are available. When seeing “Airport Unattended” while planning a winter flight, prudence suggests a confirmation phone call to the destination’s FBO or airport operator.

7. Time is the difference between “Conditions Not Monitored” and “Surface Conditions Not Reported” NOTAMs

When the staff at a small airport is unable to report changes in the field conditions because they are getting some much needed sleep, they should issue a “Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM with the expectation that after a short nap, they will return to work and resume reporting the airport field conditions. If, for some reason, the airport staff is unable to report airport conditions for 24 hours of more, the airport should issue a “Surface (SFC) Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM that covers the entirety of their absence.

A caveat for pilots: If an airport has published in its Airport Master Record a set schedule when it will not monitor conditions, like weekends or National Holidays, it does not have to issue a “SFC Conditions Not Monitored” NOTAM. In other words, to avoid being caught unaware in winter, when flight planning to smaller airports, always check the destination’s Airport Master Record for the pertinent schedule.

Snow & Ice Control Meeting Signals Winter’s Approach to Chicago Executive Airport

BlowerThe FAA’s new runway Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA) was the major change discussed at the recent Snow and Ice Committee meeting the tenants and users of Chicago Executive Airport, said Andrew Wolanik, PWK’s operations coordinator. Not only does it change how the airport operations crew determines the runway conditions, it changes how those conditions are reported to the airport’s users.

The federal NOTAM (Notices to Airmen) system will now be the primary method of disseminating runway conditions to all users at every airport including air traffic control. To test the system’s latency, the time it takes the surface condition NOTAM to reach the control tower from the the operations keyboard, Wolanik conducted several tests. The results were the same: the tower’s fax machine spit out the test NOTAM 90 seconds after he punched the submit key. Per a freshly revised Letter of Agreement between the air traffic control tower and airport management, airport operations must either radio or call the surface condition NOTAM directly to the control tower as well.

How runway conditions are assessed and communicated aren’t the only changes in the airport’s snow and ice control plan. In revising the plan for the 2016-17 season, the staff used Part 139 requirements as a guide, said Wolanik. “We are not an airport that serves commercial airlines, but we strive to meet and exceed the level of safety, and working to Part 139 snow and ice control requirements further improves Chicago Exec’s general operating standards and safety.”

Those standards include staff review of all applicable standards right down to the height of snow banks. If they are too high, not only can they damage aircraft they can block signs, lights, and markings and impede the accuracy of essential navigational aids. Training is another requirement, and the entire operations crew is cross-trained on every piece equipment. And that fleet of plows, brooms, and blowers will grow by one with the arrival a new Oshkosh H-series rotary broom, which will be designated Airport 20, in February 2017.

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NPIAS Report to Congress Lists Five-Year Airport Improvement Program Eligibility

ILThe FAA recently sent Congress its National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) for Fiscal Years 2017 to 2021. Since 1984, the report has identified the airports that make up the national airport system, they role the play in it, and the types of airport development they are eligible for and the amount of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funding to help pay for it over the next five years.

Chicago Executive Airport (PWK) is one of 3,340 public-use airports (3,332 existing and eight proposed) “that are important to national air transportation. This year the FAA estimated that these airports will need approximately $32.5 billion in AIP-eligible projects between 2017 and 2021. All commercial airports are included in the report, as are a smaller number of general aviation airports that make specific contributions to the NPIAS.

Digging deeper into the report, the FAA lists Chicago Exec as a National Reliever, and it is eligible for $83,851,701 in AIP funds. That’s not a guarantee, just the estimated maximum amount of AIP funding the airport is eligible to apply for. The report does not list specific projects. That involved process, which involves the airport, local and state authorities, as well as the FAA are the next steps.

As the report explained, airport improvements grow out of current and forecasted traffic at each airport, the use and age of their facilities, and changing technology that requires airports to upgrade or replace the equipment and infrastructure that supports them. The FAA works with state aviation agencies and local planning organizations to identify public-use airports for inclusion in the NPIAS.

imageThe FAA said AIP projects are expected to decrease at large and medium-sized hub airports and increase at small hubs. “Development at all other airport categories remain flat.” Contributing to this is the conclusion of the FAA’s decade-long airport capacity effort and runway safety area (RSA) initiative. This included Chicago Exec’s EMAS, which recently demonstrated its contribution to safety and is pictured in the report.

In the NPIAS hierarchy, there are 395 primary airports (think O’Hare and Midway) that handle the majority of the nation’s commercial (airline) traffic. Logically, the remaining 2,937 NPIAS airports are nonprimary.

On this list, Chicago Exec’s listing assigns it a National role, meaning it “supports the national airport system by providing communities access to national and international markets in multiple states and throughout the United States. National airports have very high levels of aviation activity with many jets and multiengine propeller aircraft.”

And it is categorized as one of the nation’s 259 Reliever airports, defined as “An airport designated by the Secretary of Transportation to relieve congestion at a commercial service airport and to provide more general aviation access to the community.” And doesn’t that succinctly summarize Chicago Exec’s contribution to the communities that surround it as well at the nation in which it plays a significant role?

Airport Interns at Chicago Exec Get First-Hand Air Operations Area Experience

PWK-28Mowing grass and whipping weeds may seem a mundane, menial summer job, but that’s not true at Chicago Executive Airport. As the four airport interns are learning this summer, these tasks are an excellent first-hand lesson in life in an airport operation area. Often referred to as the AOA, it is defined as any area of an airport used or intended to be used for takeoff, landing, or surface maneuvering of aircraft. This includes paved and unpaved areas, including runways, taxiways, taxi lanes, ramps, and aprons.

In other words, the AOA is everything inside the airport fence, and nothing moves within it without the FAA control tower knowing about it. Anything that moves on the airport, airplanes, helicopters, trucks, lawn mowers, or interns with a weed whip, must be cleared for the movement by the tower so there is not an unfortunate, unintended meeting of any two of them, explained James Kelly (below), a Tinley Park-native who will start his senior year at Lewis University, where he’ll earn a degree in aviation administration, with a minor in flight dispatch.

The students started their internships with a class that certified them to drive on the AOA. Working with an airport diagram they learned where they could and could not drive, how to identify their location on the airport and read the signs and pavement markings that identified them, and how to communicate with the tower’s ground controller.

“We got a tour of the tower,” said Conner Wagner, (on right, with Will Thompson and “their” truck, Airport 8) who hails from Jackson, Michigan, and graduates in 2017 with a degree in aviation management operations with a minor in business from Western Michigan University. “It was interesting to see how the controllers coordinate all the activity on the ground and in the air, all the vehicles and planes in the airport operating area.” A classmate, Brendan Stauton, is also interning at PWK this summer. Working toward a professional pilot degree, he’d returned to campus to take the FAA checkride for his instrument rating, which he passed, said Wagner.

PWK-34In accordance with the airport’s wildlife management plan, the interns mowing efforts are coordinated so that the grass stays between 5 and 8 inches in height. Any shorter and insects would be readily visible, attracting their predators, and any longer would provide too much cover for mammalian prey from their predators. And while they are mowing or whipping weeds, the interns are looking for animals, inspecting the fence line for places where animals have dug under the fence, and keeping an eye out for burned out airport lights.

After reporting a burned out light, the interns learned how to replace them under the watchful eye of a member of the airport maintenance crew. Airport Operations Coordinator Andrew Wolanik and Assistant Airport Operations Coordinator Bryce Walter are the interns’ primary supervisors. Mowing and whipping occupy roughly half their time. They have undertaken any number of different airport projects. In the week before Independence Day, they were building 180 sets of wheel chocks from scratch. They will secure the airplanes moved from their usual homes in Areas 2 and 3, so the airport would have someplace to park cars for Chicago Exec’s July 4 weekend activities.

Three of Chicago Execs four summer interns learned about the opportunity through the aviation degree programs in which they are enrolled, and their summer efforts are bookended by the end of the last school year and the start of the next. Will Thompson of Winnetka, a political science major who just finished his freshman year at Villanova University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, learned about the program from PWK Civil Air Patrol unit he joined in 2014. His internship is shorter than the others. With his sights set on being an aviators, “I’m in U.S. Marine ROTC, and I have some training to do before school starts.”

Making Chicago Exec Better, Safer, More Efficient is Goal of New Airport Operations Coordinator

Andrew WolanikChicago Executive Airport’s new airport operations coordinator, Andrew Wolanik, who started work just before the year 2016 began, describes his responsibilities and his goals in simple terms. “Basically, I’m responsible for everything inside the airport fence and with the airport operations maintenance crew our goal is to make Chicago Exec a better, safer, more efficient environment for resident and visiting aviators and businesses.”

This ranges from seemingly mundane tasks like cutting the grass and coordinating the snow removal teams to other equally important tasks, like the daily inspection of all airport pavement for FOD, and removal of these items that can cause expensive Foreign Object Damage when an aircraft runs into or over it, or sucks it into an engine. Worldwide, FOD costs aviation about $13 billion a year, and the administration team does not want operations at PWK to add a penny to that total and, more importantly, doesn’t want anyone to get hurt.

“Runway 16 is 150 feet wide, and it is hard to see all of it, and to make sure the lights that line it, are in optimum operating order on a single pass,” Wolanik explained. So he updated the inspection routes defined by a standard operating procedure to increase the number of passes to give the pavement and lights a more thorough visual inspection, and the airport recently acquired a drag-behind 72-inch FOD magnet that collects the ferrous FOD that’s hard to see.

Coordinating snow removal operations is even more involved. Beyond scheduling the six full-time maintenance crew to shifts that ensure a continuous effort during the storm, Wolanik must employ the right equipment, the plows, rotating brooms, and snow blowers, in the proper sequence that is predicated on the type of snow. There’s a big difference between 2 inches of dry, light snow and 6 inches or more of the heavy wet stuff. And then there is ice. Dealing with it requires almost constant measurement of air and pavement temperatures, which play a critical part in the effectiveness of the anti-icing fluid sprayed on the pavement.

Discussing ways to improve the airport’s operating procedures—and address new challenges—is a collaborative effort most easily seen at the team’s regular safety meetings. The team, which this summer includes four interns, is more like a family, said Wolanik, and this in one of the leading reasons he applied for the position.

Wolanik, who graduated from Lewis University n 2010 with a degree in aviation administration, became a member of this family during his summer internships in 2009 and 2010. “Those were memorable summers,” said the Lake in the Hills native. “I had a lot of fun learning from people who became friends (some of whom attended my wedding), and I always wanted to come back here.”

Between graduation and joining the Chicago Exec family full time, Wolanik worked as a senior logistics coordinator at Priester Aviation, he said. This experience not only added an aviation dispatcher rating to his FAA certificate as an instrument-rated private pilot and advanced ground instructor, it gave him valuable insights on how general aviation operations work affects the operations of PWK’s aviation businesses. It is an important component of his holistic approach to making Chicago Exec a better, safer, more efficient place to fly.

Assistant Airport Operations Coordinator Builds Career on Chicago Exec Internship

PWK-17A full-time position as the assistant airport operations coordinator was the last thing Bryce Walter expected when he secured an internship at Chicago Executive Airport. Receiving the offer in mid-December 2015 for the internship that started with the New Year, the Grand Rapids, Michigan, native’s immediate concern was finding a place to live. “All my friends told me I needed to get a place in the city, because there are a lot of fun things to do there,” he said, and they were right. Now building a career and future at Chicago Exec, he’s looking for a place closer to the airport.

Completing his degree in aviation management operations at Western Michigan University in August, Walter briefly considered a flight degree, and earned his private pilot certificate in the process, but quite a bit of job shadowing at the Grand Rapids airport revealed greater opportunity and a more diverse series of challenges. “But the initial hurdle is that nobody wants to hire someone in operations who doesn’t have experience, so I knew I needed an internship to get some. I started looking and found that not a lot of airports want to help people get started with internships.”

In the end, he found three, and his final choices were Aspen, Colorado, and Chicago Exec. “I’ve been to the Chicago area quite a bit, and it was more appealing than Aspen,” said Walter. And it’s closer to home, where he and a partner run a wedding DJ business. “During the 2016 season I’m only doing one wedding a month,” he explained, adding that his business partner is “really slammed.”

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Chicago Exec Hosts Wildlife Hazard Management Training Session

PWK-35Mitigating wildlife hazards is especially important to Illinois airports because they are smack-dab in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway, North America’s main migratory thoroughfare between north and south.

Approximately 50 staffers from airports large and small, Aurora Municipal (ARR); Bult Field (C56); DuPage (DPA); Joliet Regional (JOT); Lake in the Hills (3CK); Rockford International (RFD); and University of Illinois Willard (CMI); attended the Wildlife Hazard Management Training Session held June 28 at Chicago Executive Airport (PDK).

The FAA has required wildlife assessments and management plans at Part 139 commercial airports like O’Hare and Midway since 1990, and strongly recommended that general aviation airport’s (like Chicago Exec, where the USDA recently completed a wildlife assessment) voluntarily do the same because wildlife and airplanes have had unfortunate meetings from the dawn of powered flight. US Airways Flight 1549, brought down by geese in 2009, is the best-known incident. Calbraith Perry Rodgers didn’t have the same happy outcome when he met a flock of birds in midair shortly after he became the first pilot to fly across America in the Vin Fizz, a Wright Flyer Model B. Flying another Model B, he died on April 12, 1912 in Long Beach, California.

Starting at 9 a.m., representatives from USDA Wildlife Services, the FAA, and the Illinois Aeronautics Division discussed their roles in wildlife hazard assessment, management, and mitigation. For any airport, having the USDA complete a wildlife assessment is the key that unlocks federal and state funding that enables them to develop and act on their unique plans to reduce the wildlife hazard.

Reporting wildlife strikes is a key element, and the FAA Wildlife Strike Database collates all of them. Since it was established, the number of strikes has increased every year, not because their numbers are increasing, but because of better reporting. At the same time, those reports show that airport wildlife management plans are working because the number of strikes resulting in damage is decreasing.

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Chicago Executive Airport Viewing Area: A Safe Place to Watch Planes

PWK-18Designated spots at airports where people curious about or interested in aviation could watch airplanes take off and land used to be a lot more common than they are today. Most of them were at commercial airports, like Chicago Midway and Chicago O’Hare, where people could pass some time before their flights boarded. They were popular with families with energetic kids because it better focused their attention. Dedicated viewing areas at general aviation airports were—and are—rare. People, families, just drove to the airport, usually to a fixed-base operation or the airport office, and found a spot on the grass.

And then 9/11 happened. And wandering around a commercial airport like Chicago Midway or Chicago O’Hare became nearly impossible. And 10-foot-tall chain link fences surrounded a good many general aviation airports. But not at Chicago Executive Airport. It is one of the rare general aviation airports with a dedicated viewing area. If you haven’t seen it, it is located on Palatine Frontage Road. And to a degree, it’s famous. It is first on the list of airports nationwide when you ask Wikipedia about “public viewing area.”

Wikipedia defines a public viewing area as “a space set aside for members of the public to safely view sites of interest, such as airports, railroads, construction sites or other facilities…. In locations that have inherent dangers and would not normally be accessible to the public, viewing areas provide a way to satiate the public curiosity without exposing inordinate risk.” This describes Chicago Exec’s viewing area, but not completely.

Situated outside the airport fence, with a safe and unobstructed view of the approach ends of Runway 34 and Runway 30, PWK’s viewing area includes a sizeable parking area, seating in either the bleachers, benches, or at a picnic table. Next to the bleachers, a protected bulletin board displays notices and posters of upcoming airport events and activities.

PWK-20.jpgPassersby may usually observe at least one or two cars parked in the lot and many spectators return at different times of day or days of the week because there is always an opportunity for surprise. As an airport serving all of general aviation, no one can predict what type of airplane will next take the runway. Business aircraft are Runway 16/34’s usual patrons, but others run the gamut from current, classic, and antique single-engine prop planes, with an occasional military veteran now serving its civilian pilot. But these surprises do not appear without notice. If spectators listen in to the tower conversation, they’ll know what will soon fly into view.

Airplanes, Airspace & Chicago Executive Airport

Terminal ChartTo those on the ground, airspace is invisibly boundless. All that changes in an airplane. To make flying safe for pilots, their passengers, and people on the ground , the sky is subdivided into unseen slices delineated by altitude and distances from specific points on the ground, like airports. In each of five airspace categories, pilots and aircraft must meet specific training, equipment, and procedural requirements, from weather and visibility minimums to getting clearance from air traffic control before crossing one of these invisible dividing lines.

Naturally, the more airplanes and airports there are in a given area, the more complex the airspace, like that which covers Chicagoland. O’Hare International (ORD) anchors the angular funnel that is Class B controlled airspace, which is roughly 10 nautical miles in diameter where it touches the ground. When measured east to west, the top of the funnel, at 10,000 feet, is 60 nautical miles in diameter. If O’Hare was the only airport covered by this funnel, guiding airliners to and from it would be a simple matter. But it is one of roughly 16 public and private aerodromes, one of which, Chicago Midway (MDW) is encompassed with its own bubble of Class C controlled airspace.

Looking at the Chicago Terminal Area Chart above, Chicago Executive Airport (PWK) is easy to find. It is in the notch cut into the 5-to-10-nautical mile ring that encircles O’Hare. That cutout raises the floor of Class B airspace, entry into which requires an air traffic control clearance, from 1,900 feet in the rest of the 5-10-mile ring to 3,000 feet, as do the corner slices adjacent to the PWK notch.  Those wide blue tinted lines cutting through the rings denote the recommended paths and altitudes for pilots flying under visual flight rules beneath the Class B airspace.

And it is a busy airspace funnel. The FAA’s Air Traffic Activity System tracks and reports the number of operations (takeoffs and landings) at airports with control towers and the number of airplanes fed to those airports by the air traffic control facility responsible for the airspace, which for Chicagoland is located in Elgin. In 2015, it handled 1,248,503 operations, with 782,905 of them being airliners, most of which were on their way to O’Hare or Midway. That same year Elgin routed 318,434 air taxi (aka charter flights) and 110,407 general aviation operations to their destinations.

PWK NotchPlugging Chicago Executive Airport into the Air Traffic Activity System showed that in 2015 its control tower handled 76,901 operations. Of that number, the FAA classified the majority of them “IFR Itinerant,” meaning the airplanes taking off or landing were going to or coming from some other airport. Of the 34,188 such operations in 2015, general aviation accounted for 21,719 and air taxi (charter) tallied 12,376. It’s a busy place that is a notched neighbor of an even busier place.

The point is that each operation represents an airplane that’s going someplace, either starting or concluding its flight. The floor of the Class B airspace over Chicago Exec starts at 3,000 feet and climbs to 10,000 feet. Nearly all business jets depart PWK on an instrument flight plan. Before takeoff, air traffic control  clears them through and out of Class B airspace on a specific departure route that keeps them safely separated from all the other airplanes flying in the funnel. ATC reverses the process for airplanes bound for Chicago Exec.

When the weather is good, most of the other general aviation traffic, from people flying their own planes on business or for pleasure and newcomers learning to fly, stay out of Class B airspace by flying beneath its floor. Over Chicago Exec, that’s 3,000 feet, but directly east or west it quickly descends to 1,900 feet with steps down in the adjacent transition areas. So when you look up at the sound of an airplane flying over, see no other airplanes in the immediate vicinity, and wonder why it is so low, remember that the pilot is avoiding the invisible layers of the Class B airspace, and that this single airplane is just one of more than a million making its way to or from Chicagoland every year.