Most of my trips to the LA area are flights under the Class B airspace to Santa Monica or Riverside. I always use flight following, and I’m especially glad for it in the LA basin. They’ll help you navigate around the Class C and D airspace. A few times they’ve cleared me to climb into Class B on the way out of KSMO—rather than remaining below 5,000′. Until recently I never planned to fly through Class B airspace. Instead, I have used the Special Flight Rules Area to cross over KLAX and land at Hawthorne or I’ve flown above 10,000′ and above the CLass B. (Now that they have an expensive FBO, I no longer use Hawthorne for dropping off and picking up relatives. Santa Monica is easier and cheaper.)
The Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) is the only transition route that does not require a clearance from ATC. When flying south, ATC will drop you a few miles from SMO and you are on your own to fly the transition. The terminal area chart is fairly straightforward, but be sure to read the fine print. (Set your transponder to 1201, talk on 128.55, turn on all your lights, and limit your speed to 140 kts.) I like to descend to 3,500′, fly direct to the Santa Monica VOR, then get aligned on the 132° radial. I announce my intentions after being dropped by ATC, crossing the VOR, crossing LAX, and when leaving the SFRA. If you are continuing south, ask ATC for the frequency to use for flight following on the other side of the SFRA. It’s not on the chart and is not always the same. If you are going to Hawthorne, you are above their Class D airspace when you exit the SFRA. Just give them a call and they’ll usually clear you directly into a left downwind to Rwy 25. Towers in LA will assume that you are familiar with the VFR waypoints depicted on the chart and with the freeways. It would not be unusual for KHHR tower to tell you to start your base turn before reaching the 110 Freeway. Class B airspace starts just north of the centerline, so don’t overshoot. When leaving Hawthorne for the return trip, you’ll need to get up to 4,500′ before entering the SFRA. The easiest way is to request a box climb. Take off just like you’d do for a left downwind departure. Turn left base and final and fly over the runway. Continue the circuit until you are sure you can reach 4,500′ at the SFRA. It usually takes me just one circuit. Then just reverse the procedure and fly the 128° radial to SMO.
A few weeks ago when flying south from KSBP to KSNA I used the Special Flight Rules Area to transition the LA Class Bravo airpace. Before I started, I checked the weather and knew that the clouds would be broken and scattered at 3-4000′ at the destination. That is frequently the case for airports near the coast in the LA basin so I decided that after crossing the Class B I would descend below the clouds for the approach into KSNA. The clouds were fairly solid in the SFRA but I saw LAX below me. After leaving the Class B airspace I desended though an opening in the clouds and proceeded towards the coast. I had to dodge the clouds quite a bit and several times had to tell ATC that an assigned heading wouldn’t work because of clouds. In retrospect, I should have remained above the clouds until near KSNA and then flown inland before descending through the cloud breaks. After picking up a passenger at KSNA, I began to climb to 4,500′ to use the SFRA for our return. I had climbed to 6,000′ and ATC asked whether I’d prefer to use the Shoreline Route. They cleared me through the Class B on the Shoreline Route at 6,500′ and we flew it to LAX. When we reached LAX we were directed to fly a heading, rather than the 323° radial of LAX. There are no speed restrictions on this route—other than the normal Class B and under 10,000′ limits, which aren’t an issue for me.
I’ve never used the Mini-Route because the fine print indicates that it is only available from midnight to 6:30. However, that isn’t normally true. I flew it with an instructor who is based at KSMO and he talked me through the fine points. (Disclaimer: What follows is my recollection of the procedures we followed. Use at your own risk.) First, LAX must be reporting a ceiling of 3,000′ and visibility of 3 miles and KSMO and KHHR must be VFR. Second, make sure you are familiar with the VFR reporting points. (White LMU letters on the ground south of KSMO and the Hawthorne/405 Freeway intersection and Alondra Park south of Hawthorne.) Third, you need a clearance from LAX before entering their airspace. You’ll be instructed to proceed to these points and hold until you receive your clearance. That’s why you need to be able to identify them from the air. Fourth, they are extremely picky about the altitude. They sometimes clear more than one aircraft through and expect you to be at the assigned altitude. When I flew through it going south I was initially cleared through at 2,500′ (as published) but then told to descend to 2,000′ and another aircraft was cleared through above me. Clearances are similar to IFR clearances and unless you fly here often, you’ll want to write them down. My clearance from KSMO southbound was to fly the Mini Route at 2,500′, remain clear of the Class B, contact LAX tower on 119.8, and squawk 0201. My clearance from KHHR northbound was to proceed to the Hawthorne/405 Intersection, then Alondra Park, fly the Mini Route at 2,500′, remain clear of the Class B, contact LAX tower on 119.8, and squawk 0232. According to the instructor, he never has a problem getting a clearance but often has to hold while other aircraft are transitioned though.
There isn’t anything particularly difficult about these three routes. You do need to be really familiar with them before getting in the airplane and have the chart open on your lap. An autopilot is helpful, but not required. They are all VOR based so a GPS isn’t required. Be prepared to deviate from any published procedure at ATCs direction.
Update: January 2012
I just flew the mini-route last week and noticed that they’ve added a GPS Visual Waypoint. Noe you can program your GPS “GPS Routing: SMO direct VPLSR” were SMO is the VOR on the western edge of the Santa Monica airport and VPLSR is the intersection of Hawthorne Blvd and the 405 Freeway. I flew it both directions on a flight to KHHR (Hawthorne airport) using the autopilot southbound and hand flying northbound. It’s a bit easier than using the VOR since you can program your GPS on the ground and just follow the purple line.
I’m not sure if it was on the inset before, but it notes that FAR § 91.215 ATC transponder and altitude reporting equipment and use and § 91.131 Operations in Class B airspace. shall be met. You can read the regulations yourself, but basically, you need an operating transponder, radio communications equipment—which given the requirements of the route are not surprising. You must also be a private pilot or a student pilot if you receive special training in operations in Class B airspace.