An alternative to a Federal Aviation Administration plan will allow private pilots to travel through Salt Lake Valley without buying expensive equipment for their planes and will still reduce the chance of midair collisions.

That was the scenario the Wasatch Front Regional Council presented to the Utah Air Travel Commission this week. Council aviation planner Dennis Coombs told the commission, the group charged with improving Utah's air service, that the FAA has decreed that every large hub airport must be designated a Traffic Control Area. Salt Lake International well exceeds the traffic required for that label.Coombs said this decision arose from the 1986 collision over Los Angeles of a private plane and a scheduled airliner. "After that, the FAA said we can't have any more of this," said Coombs.

As it stands now, private pilots flying under visual flight rules may fly through the valley and the airport area without radioing the tower for permission. Under the Traffic Control Area plan, they will not be allowed to do this within certain distance and height restrictions.

Under the FAA plan, explained Coombs, the Traffic Control Area sits over the airport much like an inverted wedding cake, with concentric rings widening out from the airport in increasing altitudes.

Although this will likely prove an inconvenience to private pilots accustomed to coming and going with considerably more freedom, it will also impact their wallets. To enter the Traffic Control Area will require their planes carry several pieces of radio and electronic gear that many don't have.

Even those that have fairly sophisticated radio equipment usually don't have "mode C" capability for their transponders, said Coombs, an addition that will cost them $700-$1,000. Mode C allows controllers to determine the altitude of an aircraft.

But whether Salt Lake International will become a Traffic Control Area is not open to debate, Coombs made clear. Under the ruling, the airport will become a TCA, and that's that. But the FAA's proposal for the TCA configuration is better suited to Kansas City or some other flat terrain that it is Salt Lake City, he said. The plan does not take into account the Wasatch Range.

Coombs presented for the commission's review ASPAC III, a highly modified plan that is a much more angular and complex layout than FAA's three concentric rings but is one that would establish visual flight corridors through which small planes could transit the valley without Mode C and without coming under air traffic control.

Perhaps even more importantly, the ASPAC (Airport System Planning Advisory Committee) would not only exclude Airport No. 2, it would provide an exemption or "cutout" for the Salt Lake Skypark in Woods Cross. Planners agree that under the FAA plan, Skypark would likely have to close.

The heavily modified ASPAC proposal has been submitted to FAA, said Coombs, but he said he has no idea if it will be accepted.