“A TFR is a regulatory action issued via the U.S. Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) system to restrict certain aircraft from operating within a defined area, on a temporary basis, to protect persons or property in the air or on the ground.” So says AC91-63C, an advisory circular issued with the intent of illuminating the public on what the fuss is all about. For many, the TFR system works well, is understandable, and while it may be perceived as an inconvenience at times, it is widely believed to be a necessary one – especially when viewed from the perspective of a non-aviator.
On the other side of the fence, where GA tries to thrive, TFRs are a becoming a real irritant and a significant impediment to commerce. In Florida they’ve become almost ubiquitous, popping up with alarming frequency — sometimes remaining in place for days.
For a flight school trying to finish the year in the black, a flight instructor doing his or her best to move their students along and still stay one step ahead on the rent, or a student prepping for a practical test, there is nothing benign about waking up to find a TFR in place that will cancel their flights and stymie their progress. Businesses suffer, individual employees suffer, and students who are running tight on both time and money suffer.
Certainly there has to be a balance. National security is and always has been an issue of great importance. It would be foolhardy to suggest the president, vice president, or candidates for those offices deserve no special protection when in flight. But I have to wonder if much thought is being put into the impact these extensive and extended security measures are having on the economy of the areas they affect.
A flight instructor recently admitted to me that he had spent four days on the ground as a result of a presidential visit to Florida. And he’s not alone. Florida is the flight training capital of the world. Heck, the weather, if nothing else, is enough to attract aviation friendly folks to this subtropical sandbar I call home. Add to that a rich aviation history and some top-shelf aviation themed attractions, and you’ve got yourself a very pro-general aviation environment that thrives on flight instruction, aerial tours, and banner tow operations. At any given moment we’ve got literally thousands of aviation-minded folks saddling up for an excursion into the ether.
Except when a TFR is in force. All those aircraft, their pilots, their students, their customers, and their advertisements stay firmly on the ground – because the NOTAM tells them they must.
All this security creates a hardship that falls firmly at the feet of the law of unintended consequences. While the idea is to ensure the safety of our political leadership, the result is often hundreds of people put out of work for the day, or even multiple days.
When a visit by one person puts hundreds out of work, even for a day, one has to wonder if the visit is truly worth the trouble it causes.
Ironically, while Florida benefits from stellar weather that attracts people to come from all over the world, and is populated with a plethora of airports that makes GA flying a dream come true, it also suffers from a geographic anomaly that makes TFRs particularly problematic. Florida is a peninsula. When a 30-mile wide block of airspace is scratched off the map here, it constitutes a considerable barrier to conducting VFR flights. That is especially true of flights that focus on training activities.
That’s another layer being added to an already disruptive problem. The TFRs don’t just ground flights that fall inside the boundary of the TFR itself. Their impact is wider than that. It affects the general public’s ability to conduct flights in the vicinity of the TFR, too.
And in some cases it makes it virtually impossible for a pilot, or a flight student, to conduct a VFR flight from where they are to where they want to go. Not because they are going to overfly the center of the TFR, or even get within miles of the center. But on a peninsula, placement is everything. There are times when the TFR is blocking a considerable chunk of the Sunshine State’s real estate.
The effect is not unlike when a major highway is closed down. You may be able to see your destination in the distance, but your frustration level grows as you realize what should be a 15-minute drive is now going to take more than an hour, through surface streets that take you well out of your way. Worse, it may not be possible for you to get to your destination at all – or at least not until the highway re-opens.
TFRs are more than likely here to stay. Governmental agencies rarely find their own rules to be so ineffective, arbitrary, or disruptive that they unilaterally abandon them. That’s true even when the rules are truly and demonstrably ineffective, arbitrary, and disruptive.
A case can be made that TFRs can be described with any of those adjectives. Yet they will persist, and perhaps they should. But wouldn’t it be encouraging if the powers that be recognized the adverse impact these security zones can impose on average men and women, and modified them to make the area less debilitating to the GA industry?
Being a good neighbor is a two-way street. GA has certainly shown itself to be willing to accept considerable responsibility to work toward a safer more secure future. Would it be too much to ask that the agencies charged to work with us to achieve those same goals tried to shut us down a little less, and respect us a little more?