What is a “practice area”?
Most airports with flight training will have a nearby area designated for practicing maneuvers. Some of the maneuvers we need to practice are performed at altitudes lower than would be appropriate over heavily populated areas. Such areas are frequently, but not always, charted with notes like “Caution Intensive Flight Training”.
Where is the practice area for El Monte?
In an urban area like Los Angeles, the places where we can legally and safely practice maneuvers below 1000′ AGL are very limited. Near El Monte, that is generally limited to the area inside of the Santa Fe Flood Basin (aka Santa Fe Dam). However, there are adjacent areas that are outside of other B, C, and D airspace which may be used for maneuvers performed above 1000′ AGL. I’ve marked on the following chart section the area I generally consider for practicing maneuvers (the chart is out of date, but hopefully you can figure out the general idea):
If you stay within this area between about 3000′ and 3800′ MSL, you will be outside of Burbank’s, El Monte’s, Brackett’s, LAX’s and Ontario’s airspace, thus staying away from airspace problems. Here’s a link to common reporting points mapped on Google Maps
I do the majority of my practice in the northwest quadrant of this area, over Pasadena and Altadena. It tends to be less busy than the northeast quadrant near the dam, but there are no areas here where I would attempt to be lower than 1000AGL under any situation. Departing El Monte, I request a right crosswind departure or a departure to the northwest and climb above 3000′ MSL (usually 3200, 3700 or 4200).
Stay east of the 210 freeway from the 210/134 intersection as it runs north and west, as Burbank’s airspace starts just over the Rose Bowl. If there is a college or NFL football game at the Rose Bowl, be aware of TFRs up to 3000′ AGL (~3500′ MSL) in this area. I use Caltech as my approximate southern boundary and a kink in the 210 freeway near Hastings Ranch as my eastern boundary if I am below 2700′ MSL (as you are then very close to EMT’s airspace).
When reporting your position, using Pasadena, the Rose Bowl, Caltech or Santa Anita are all references most pilots should know.
Returning to El Monte, you will generally be told to enter right base for 19. If not otherwise instructed, I aim for Santa Anita (at 2000′ MSL), though sometimes we are told to enter right base for 19 over the 210.
This is the more official Santa Fe practice area. When departing El Monte, request a left downwind departure.
Note on the chart that some of the dam is within EMT’s airspace, so stay north and east of the rock dam at lower altitudes. Common reporting points include Citrus College, Miller Brewing, 210/605 and Irwindale Speedway. The area inside the dam is one of the few areas where one might argue the ability to descend below 1000′ AGL (though I still do not recommend that). I will operate at 3200, 3700, or 4200 in this area.
I try avoid being in the area right on the line between the POM VOR and EMT between about 2500 and 4000’MSL. The VOR-A approach is a popular approach for pilot’s doing practice instrument approaches. Pilots fly from POM to EMT and are usually descending from 4000 to 2900 along that route.
Returning to El Monte, you will generally be told to make a modified straight in, runway 19, and report Irwindale Speedway.
I will request a left crosswind departure and head towards Industry Hills (a hotel on top of a hill). I use Industry Hills as the north and west edge of this area and will use the ridge of hills south of the 60 freeway as the southern edge and the 57/60 interchange as the eastern edge. In parts of this area, the LAX Class B airspace starts at 4000′ MSL, so I suggest a max altitude of 3700, unless you are very confident of where you are relative to the LAX airspace. This area is actually noted as the La Habra practice area, though the frequency is the same. This is the area that pilots from Fullerton will often use for practice.
Returning to El Monte, I will call just east of Industry Hills and generally be told to make left traffic for 19. From there, it is easiest to follow the Valley Blvd and the train tracks to Longo Toyota dealership and make a 45 degree entry from there.
Common frequency – if you look at the chart, you’ll notice that many of the local practice areas share the same 123.3 frequency (Santa Fe, La Habra, Cajon Pass/Rialto, Redlands…). This means that it is very important to start and end your communications with the practice area name, as you would for non-tower operations. An example: “Santa Fe practice area, Skyhawk 760 over Altadena, steep turns at 3200, Santa Fe”.