Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in aviation journalism Dave has been covering every aspect of civil aviation from sport flying to the airline industry. He spent... Read More
Temporary Flight Restrictions: The potent TFR – and specifically VIP TFRs - are standard operating procedure for sitting Presidents & Vice Presidents, notes Dave Higdon. In US election years – such as 2016 – VIP TFRs expand to include candidates vying for the Presidential nomination. Keep abreast of them this year. Here’s how…
In essence, TFRs attempt to balance the security of US Presidential candidates on the backs of aviation operators. The closer operators flying in the USA get to the political nominating conventions this summer, the more-frequently they can expect to see TFRs around candidates’ campaign stops. And flying this year holds the potential for more VIP TFRs than ever.
Between now and the 58th quadrennial US presidential election on November 8, expect 2016 to mirror 2012 in the scores of TFRs imposed by the FAA at the request of security agencies. In 2012, VIP TFRs issued for the President's travels approached 500, while hundreds of others came and went for the other candidates.
Business and General Aviation operators faced scores of TFRs around the country, many of them short-notice ‘pop-up’ TFRs imposed with little warning and, consequently, with little time to prepare to handle the specific restrictions that accompany them.
TFR Frequency is ‘Seasonal’
The TFR numbers of 2012 reached their peak between the summer nominating conventions and the November election itself. But there were scores erected during the primary season that preceded the conventions. After a brief post-convention period of relative quiet, however, the TFRs soared following the conventions.
The mere proposal of a TFR can have an impact.
For example, some with sharp memories may recall the confusion caused in Florida when President Obama planned a late campaign swing into Central Florida a couple of weeks before the November 6, 2012 election. That late-October timing threatened airspace access to the Orlando area during the two days preceding the opening of the 2012 National Business Aviation Association convention; days when delegates and static-display aircraft normally flood into Orlando Executive Airport (KORL).
Only by working closely with the FAA and the security officials (who sought the TFR) was NBAA able to gain a modification to the TFR that shortened its duration to 24 hours and narrowed its scope to provide access for static-display aircraft headed to ORL.
In the end it was all for nothing. The TFR went active for only a few hours before being canceled because Hurricane Sandy happened and the President remained in D.C. to deal with the storm's aftermath.
Better Now Than Before
Prior to September 11, 2001, the TFR was a rare, limited-use mechanism the FAA employed in special circumstances. Natural disasters, search-and-rescue efforts and man-made incidents predominantly underpinned TFRs for years. Fortunately, thanks to NBAA, AOPA and other aviation groups, TFRs are far less a mystery today than in the years immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Back then the security protocol made knowing about and avoiding TFRs more difficult. Sometimes the FAA enacted a TFR but withheld location information in the name of security. TFRs went up over many power-generating plants and the security officials declined to provide location information (even though the plants were charted).
Yet even with the improvements in the system since then, they remain a challenge for operators with unfortunate timing and the need to fly into them.
One complicating factor is the ‘parentage’ of each TFR. While it's the FAA that issues the TFRs through its NOTAM system, the agency isn't always in control of the access conditions imposed.
The size, times and restriction levels for each TFR vary. For VIP TFRs, these determinations are made by the United States Secret Service (USSS), in coordination with FAA Security. Once finalized, TFR information is typically distributed via Flight Data Center (FDC) Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) in advance of the event.
Overall, airlines suffer the least from TFRs because of the different checks and security clearances imposed on carriers and their crew. Business and General Aviation operators thus take the biggest hits – even those where operators have been vetted for participation in the Twelve-Five Standard Security Program (TFSSP) or the DCA Access Security Program.
The TFSSP applies “to scheduled and charter (passenger and cargo) operations to, from, within, or outside the US that use aircraft with a maximum certificated takeoff weight (MTOW) of more than 12,500 pounds” according to NBAA's information. The DCA Access Security Program applies to operators who wish to use Washington National Airport (KDCA).
How TFRs Work....
VIP TFRs consist of one or more rings of airspace that surround the VIP and become active for a specific amount of time. The normal arrangement is to have one ring covering the location of the VIP’s arrival and departure, with another over the area(s) the VIP visits while on the ground. Most times these rings remain stationary, but there are occasions where the agency issues ‘rolling’ TFRs to accommodate a moving event – i.e., one involving a train or bus trip between the arrival and departure points.
Presidential TFRs generally entail an outer ring (usually 30 nautical miles, but sometimes slightly more or less) and one or more inner rings (usually 10 nautical miles). The shape and dimensions of these rings sometimes are modified to meet specific needs. For example, some TFRs are structured so that the outer ring consists of the lateral limits of a particular airport’s Class B airspace, or are created with cut-outs to allow access to airports on the edge of the ring, as noted below.
It's the inner rings that tend to present the biggest hurdle to General & Business Aviation because they are almost always inaccessible to any General Aviation aircraft.
This is primarily due to the fact that GA aircraft are not subject to TSA passenger and aircraft screening. Consequently, GA aircraft are effectively barred from even transiting these areas below 18,000 feet or from accessing airports within these areas during the specified times. Furthermore, these ‘no fly’ rings can force rerouting to move aircraft away from them.
There are occasional exceptions that allow certain GA aircraft to access the inner rings. In other instances the Secret Service agrees to the establishment of ‘gateway’ airports. These airports are designated for GA aircraft to land for screening before entering the TFR airspace or landing at TFR-surrounded airports.
In other cases, GA aircraft are permitted into the inner ring(s) only after obtaining TSA waivers, sometime used in combination with gateway airports. However, these exceptions are relatively rare and are normally made for TFRs that impact multiple airports for several days.
TFRs for vice presidents and candidates tend to be smaller and less restricted than VIP TFRs for the President. But there is no guarantee that the security authorities won't impose large, tightly restricted TFRs for candidates.
The First Rule to Remember
Operators that belong to NBAA can access the association's website for its tailored VIP 91.141 TFR NOTAM Impact Statements, and association members can link through to other information the association collects through the NBAA ATM Specialists working at the FAA ATC System Command Center.
The NBAA staff provides these impact statements for VIP TFRs, detailing the effects that these specific TFRs have on Business & General Aviation, including what airports and airspace might be affected. NBAA TFR impact statements reference public airports with at least one runway of at least 3000' in length. https://www.nbaa.org/ops/airspace/alerts/notams/vip-tfrs/
Members enjoy access to other information and services available through NBAA, as do members of AOPA.
While TFRs can have many roots other than the President, Vice President and some candidates, it's the VIP TFRs that create the most grief for General Aviation operators of all stripes. These TFRs are governed by FAR 91.141 and are generally not made available to the public until two or three days before the triggering event.
Remember: Anytime, Anywhere…
Operators can sometimes take a heads-up from campaign news that talks about candidates' appearance schedules. Cities that a nominee plans to visit are sure to have a VIP TFR, so paying attention to campaign schedules can give you some guidance well before the NOTAM is issued.
And take this to the bank: 2016 will see many, many TFRs… first for the top-tier campaigns that have requested Secret Service protection for their candidates; then for the nominees that emerge after the conventions.
With private aircraft the transportation of choice for most of the White House contenders, this could be one of the most TFR-intensive years in a decade.
But be sure, TFRs can arise anytime, anywhere – and minutes after your last check. Because of their variety and sudden onset, TFR violations are a frequent enforcement issue with the FAA. Watch, check, and re-check frequently in 2016…