AOPA continues battle against 'Catch-22' stadium notam

September 19, 2002

AOPA is continuing its fight against the infamous "blanket" notam prohibiting all flight near major sporting events and large assemblies of people. Notam 1/3353 effectively closes any nontowered airport within three nautical miles of a major event, and pilots can be prosecuted for violating the TFR. But the "Catch-22" is that the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will not tell pilots when and where the events are taking place.

Wednesday, AOPA Legislative Affairs staff was working late into the night to try to defeat an amendment that writes the notam into law. And at the same time, AOPA told TSA officials that the notam was vague and unenforceable.

Senator John Breaux (D-La.) Thursday pushed through an amendment to the Aviation Security Improvement Act that would prohibit the government from changing notam 1/3353 for 180 days and prohibit any waivers to the notam. That amendment would make the "Catch-22" notam law and would prohibit banner towers and other aerial advertisers from conducting their legal business near major events. The National Football League strongly supported the amendment.

"This is bad public policy," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Is the NFL now dictating who can fly in the nation's public airspace?"

AOPA Legislative Affairs staff had worked through the evening Wednesday to forestall Breaux's amendment. AOPA worked with other senators to develop a reasonable counter-amendment that was introduced by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).

Although the Senate Commerce Committee approved the Breaux amendment on Thursday, the legislation still must be voted on by the full Senate and the House of Representatives before it can become law.

AOPA will let members know the appropriate time to contact Congress.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday AOPA was also telling TSA that the "Catch-22" notam was bad regulatory policy. (See AOPA's " talking points.")

"Pilots are taught from the very inception of flight training to fly with precision referencing specific information," AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula told TSA officials at the "public listening session." "Areas to avoid are defined by time, latitude and longitude coordinates, and referenced to aeronautical navigation aids. That's all missing from this notam. Pilots can't possibly be expected to comply with it, and it's unfair to cite pilots for unknowingly flying within three miles and 3,000 feet of a 'major open air assembly of people.'"

AOPA recommended eliminating the notam or at least making it more specific. AOPA said the notam should be limited to events with a crowd size of 30,000 or more, start and end times for the events should be listed, and procedures should be established to permit pilots to operate at airports near the events.

"These steps would help pilots know what events are covered, when the TFR is in effect, and would permit normal air traffic operations at nontowered airports during an event," said Cebula.

AOPA also offered suggestions on how those affected by last week's revocation of waivers for aviation access to sports events could return to flying while satisfying security concerns.

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