TFRs abound as election approaches

 - October 12, 2006, 9:43 AM

As the presidential election heated up last month, the blood pressures of many general aviation pilots rose faster than the campaign rhetoric as they attempted to stay abreast of changing temporary flight restrictions (TFRs).

Neither Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry nor running mate John Edwards had asked for temporary flight restrictions over their campaign stops as AIN was going to press; President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, however, continued to make use of TFRs during their visits around the country.

Meanwhile, New York City area pilots were bracing for the flight restrictions to be imposed for the Republican National Convention from August 30 to September 2. Although the official notams had not been released at press time, AOPA was telling pilots to expect a seven-nm-radius no-fly zone for general aviation aircraft around lower Manhattan.

In an unrelated move early last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) raised the threat level to orange for the financial services sectors in New York City, northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C., citing “new and unusually specific information” about where Al-Qaeda would like to attack.

“Based on a recent interagency review of available information,” said DHS, “we remain concerned about Al-Qaeda’s continued efforts to plan multiple attacks against the U.S., possibly employing commercial or general aviation aircraft, including helicopters.”

Even though the department acknowledged that it had no information about specific dates for potential attacks, it asked for “increased awareness and reporting” throughout the GA community. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reminded operators of general aviation aircraft and airports to review the agency’s security guidelines for general aviation airports and AOPA’s Airport Watch Program materials.

Ever-changing TFRs

NBAA said it is working closely with government agencies to mitigate the effects of TFRs and their impact on its membership, but it anticipates increasingly shorter lead times for notification of TFRs. “The complex, late-notice TFRs will appear nationwide, but are most likely to emerge in election battleground states such as Florida, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin,” said a spokesperson for the association.

As part of its Secure Access initiative, NBAA is pressing the Bush Administration and Congress to implement and fund an appropriate general aviation security program for qualified operators. In addition, it is urging the TSA to expand the TSA Access Certificate (TSAAC) program, which may grant certificate holders access to TFRs that is equivalent to that of scheduled airlines.

NBAA said more than 2,100 members subscribe to its airspace alerts e-mail list as a source to keep informed about current and potential TFRs. The NBAA general aviation desk, based at the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center near Washington Dulles International Airport, is another resource for assisting member operations, and tailored, aircraft-specific information is provided to members on a subscription basis.

AOPA noted that during the week of the Democratic National Convention in Boston in late July there was a 60-nm-diameter TFR around Boston, as well as 20 TFRs for Bush and Cheney. It said the TFRs caused major disruptions to air traffic.

Early last month, AOPA thanked Kerry for his “common-sense approach” to security (not requesting airspace restrictions for his campaign travels). But that may soon change.

It is the Secret Service that asks the FAA for TFRs for Bush and Cheney. Now that Kerry is the official Democratic nominee, he and Edwards also receive Secret Service protection, so presumably the TFR decision will not be theirs to make.

The last-minute TFRs can create a trap for innocent pilots, said AOPA, because the FAA cannot always provide TFR notams far enough in advance to be included in pilots’ planning. That could lead to inadvertent airspace violations, it warned.

Also last month, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked DHS Secretary Tom Ridge to accelerate efforts to put antimissile countermeasures on U.S. commercial aircraft.

“The administration’s current plan to study this issue until 2006 is not acceptable,” the two lawmakers wrote. “Israel, by comparison, is already in the process of equipping all of its commercial aircraft with countermeasures technology that is available today.”

In late July, the House approved by a 423-0 vote the Commercial Aviation Manpads Defense Act of 2004. It contains provisions that would require the FAA to expedite airworthiness certification of systems that protect against man-portable air defense systems (Manpads). It would also require DHS to report to Congress, within one year, on the vulnerability assessment reports the department is conducting at U.S. airports and any ground-based defense policies or procedures recommended as a result of that process.