February 7, 2002
The Honorable Jane Garvey Administrator Federal Aviation Administration 800 Independence A venue, SW Washington, DC 20591
The incidents of the past two weeks where small general aviation aircraft unintentionally penetrated temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) over the nation's capital and the Presidential retreat at Camp David illustrate the necessity of providing pilots with graphical notices to airmen (notams) depicting these airspace restrictions. Unintentional TFR incursions hurt general aviation. The public at large is left with the perception that general aviation is a security threat and unwilling to abide by the rules, which is simply not true.
I certainly am not defending the actions of these pilots or taking away from the seriousness of the violations, but I want to underscore the communication gap that must be bridged by the FAA. How can the FAA expect pilots to avoid airspace when they are not given the proper maps and tools needed to plot a course for avoiding the airspace? It is akin to handing a businessperson the keys to a rental car in an unfamiliar city, pointing them in the general direction of travel and wishing them luck in successfully navigating a highway system as complex as the L.A. freeway, with no map and all the street signs covered up. The system no longer works.
Pilots have struggled for years to receive and decipher TFR notices delivered by the archaic notam system with a limited capacity and the format allowing only textual description of airspace boundaries. For most, these are nearly impossible to interpret. What was a minor TFR problem became a serious epidemic post-9/11 with the proliferation of security TFR airspace around the country. Safety and efficiency, and now security, of the air traffic system are compromised by the notam system deficiencies.
This is also a problem for those charged with briefing pilots about weather conditions and other pertinent safety information for a flight. Two recent examples illustrate this point—on June 25, 2002, a transient general aviation pilot contacted a flight service station (FSS), requesting a standard briefing for a VFR flight into Washington Executive/Hyde Field, Maryland. Despite the current notam prohibiting transient general aviation operations in the "no fly" zone around the D.C. area, and despite the fact that Hyde Field is closed, the FSS briefer stated no notams were in effect. On June 28, a pilot called another FSS and requested notams for the D.C. area; the briefer responded no notams were in effect. Based on this incomplete and inaccurate information, these pilots were all set to fly right into the restricted airspace!
AOPA has been advocating for a solution to give pilots access to clear, concise notams, graphically depicting current airspace restrictions via the Internet. To fill the gap left by the FAA, last November, AOPA—with the help of Jeppesen—created some 86 graphical TFRs in less than 24 hours and posted them on its Web site to alert pilots to restricted areas over nuclear power plants. We are committed to helping pilots in the absence of information from the FAA and currently provide a graphical depiction of the security TFRs and plain-language interpretations of notams on the AOPA Web site. A copy of the home page and interactive map of the United States enabling pilots to quickly click for details and the color depictions is enclosed.
However, we strongly believe the government has a responsibility to provide this information. The FAA operates and maintains the notam computer having access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although I am proud of the work AOPA has done, we are not the official source and have concerns we might miss a notam or a small detail affecting navigation.
AOPA understands since February, the FAA has been working with Jeppesen to develop a system to create graphical notams of restricted areas—but the agency only intends to make the graphics available to FSS briefers and does not plan to distribute them to pilots. On February 19, AOPA sent a letter to the FAA, urging it to expand the program to include dissemination of the graphical product to pilots and to immediately implement the program. It has been over five months and there is no product yet, nor has there been any commitment made to expand the program.
Jane, the TFR notam situation is critical, and general aviation's future access to airspace hangs in the balance. Given the recent violations, the proliferation of security TFRs, the military's shoot-down policy, and the current notam system deficiencies, the FAA must work aggressively to get graphical TFRs into the hands of users as soon as possible. The Internet is the communication tool that should be leveraged to make it happen!
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