Holding The Line, TFRs, NORAD
And General Aviation
August 27, 2010 -
Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) are nothing new, but in the
wake of the Sept. 11 attacks they've taken on a much more important role
in the security of events and elected officials, often to the dismay of
aviation in a way not seen since the final years of World War II,
terrorists have forced the Federal Aviation Administration,
Transportation Security Administration and the North American Aerospace
Defense Command to pay much closer attention to what's in the sky around
key events and elected officials such as the President of the
straightforward enough. If the president visits a city or town, the FAA
puts up a TFR, an area of airspace around where the president will be,
until he's left, restricting what aircraft may enter that area, under
what conditions and in what ways. Those TFRs are announced by the FAA in
the form of NOTAMs, Notices to Airmen.
restricted by time, altitude and distance to designated points to
control airspace around certain events," said James Gagnon, NORAD
Operations Division Operations Standards Branch chief. "It doesn't
necessarily mean you can't fly in there, but there are certain
compliance restrictions to fly in that airspace."
Gagnon said TFRs
aren't a new thing, though they've gained prominence following Sept. 11,
2001. There is always a TFR around a space shuttle launch, for example,
or volcanic eruptions. A TFR was established around
"They're put out
there for a very good reason," he said. "Under current policy, he (the
president) will always have a TFR wherever he goes. That's why we work
really closely with the Secret Service, FAA and other agencies."
|Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. - An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 333rd Fighter Squadron assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., patrols the skies over Kennedy Space Center, Fla., as the Space Shuttle Atlantis launches into space for the last time. During the patrol, Strike Eagle aircrews identified and redirected five aircraft that inadvertently violated the airspace restriction put in place for the launch. The North American Aerospace Defense Command is responsible for defending the airspace where temporary flight restrictions have been established. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. John Peltier)|
violates the restrictions, particularly in a TFR protecting the
president, then you have a problem.
during an intercept is fairly straightforward and done in accordance
with International Civil Aviation Organization procedures, Gagnon said.
Fighters will approach the errant aircraft and attempt to identify it.
The interceptors will try to get the pilot's attention and establish
communication, either on the radio or by visual signals such as rocking
their wings. Once they have the pilot's attention, they'll instruct the
pilot to follow them out of the TFR.
Gagnon said, is the key. Most people who violate TFRs aren't aware of
them and aren't in communication with the FAA.
Most of the time,
the pilot realizes his mistake, or at the very least recognizes that a
Breaking a TFR is
a civil violation, and the penalties for busting a TFR vary on the
circumstances and intent said Special Agent Yen Yung, Federal Bureau of
Investigation Liaison to NORAD and USNORTHCOM. "TSA and FAA would have
primacy as to jurisdiction," he explained. "Both the Department of
Justice and the FBI would have very limited roles in a true TFR
situation. The one point which would make the issue a criminal violation
would be if we have evidence to support the action was intentional and,
more importantly, malicious."
Counsel for FAA would make the final determination to assess fines and
fees, and the possible revocation of the pilot's license based on the
investigation conducted by the TSA and FAA," he said. "An Enforcement
Investigative Report is usually generated by the investigative agency
for the TFR violations."
"Everything we do
after we decide to scramble, there's a cost to it," Gagnon said.
"Whether it's FAA and the investigation they have to do afterward or the
Secret Service and their investigation as well as to launch the aircraft
and their fuel costs."
"If the incident
is treated as a potential terrorist act, the entire Joint Terrorism Task
Force component is stood up to identify if there is a threat to national
security," he said. "The last one I was involved in required an F-16 to
escort from the no-fly zone, and the JTTF interviewing the pilot for any
"TFRs are broken
all the time," Gagnon said. "You have to figure there are, during the
course of the day, not only the thousands of commercial and general
aviation aircraft, but private civilian aircraft that are flying in the
Why so many?
According to Craig Spence, Vice President of Operations and
International Affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association,
it's a breakdown in communication coupled with a confusing system of
getting the information into the hands of pilots in the first place. He
said NOTAMs can be difficult to find and hard for some people to
understand, which inevitably leads to pilots violating TFRs purely on
"Some of these
folks don't even know it's (the NOTAMs) out there," he said. "We're
sticklers for rules. Our whole process is regulated, and we're used to
these type of things, but if you don't know the rules, you can't play
"The Chicago TFR
changed seven times in a five-day time period," he said in regards to a
TFR established for President Barack Obama?s visit to the city in May.
"It got to be a rather complex set of flight restrictions that became
cumbersome. A lot of the time, these are last-minute TFRs that are
popping up, and I may already be airborne at that point in time or the
TFR may shift due to sudden changes in the VIP's movement. These are
some of the ones that really get us in the biggest problems."
acknowledged that TFRs can change, particularly when a VIP has to move
around but said pilots are required to check all appropriate NOTAMs and
should be aware of established TFRs, particularly when flying around
"A lot of private
pilots are out there just flying VFR," he said. "They don't check them.
They don't make it a habit of checking them, and when you start to fly
around bigger cities it's probably a good idea to do so. Most of the
problems we have are with civilian aviators who are not used to flying
around those kind of areas like D.C. or
Education as a way
to decrease TFR violations is one of the areas where Spence and Gagnon
agree. One of the services AOPA provides is a "plain language NOTAM,"
taking what the FAA puts out and making it easier for pilots to
understand. They also provide graphical representations of the TFRs they
know about and e-mail pilots within a certain radius of TFRs, letting
them know that they're there.
has developed their own outreach program to provide the NORAD
perspective of air defense operations, including the rules and
procedures general aviation pilots must follow and the procedures used
by NORAD fighter and helicopter intercept pilots. The briefings are
given to FAA air traffic controllers and general aviation pilots, often
by NORAD headquarters pilots who have both alert and commercial airline
NORAD Operations Division analyst, said they try to conduct the
briefings around airports where large events are scheduled to take
place, such as around
DalSoglio said the
there have been tangible effects.
"If there is a
security threat then the assets need to be positioned to defend against
those threats," he said. "A TFR without that defense is, in essence,
useless. All we're doing is keeping the honest people out, separating
compliance from noncompliance."
continues even as the threats do. In February, Andrew Stack crashed a
small plane into an IRS building in
Wherever a person
positions themselves on the TFR debate, one thing is clear, according to
Gagnon. NORAD will continue to defend the airspace for as long as
they're asked to.
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