AOPA talking points, TSA public listening session

September 19, 2002

AOPA talking points

TSA Public Listening Session: The Blanket Sporting Event Notam

  • On September 20, 2001, the FAA issued notam 1/3353 issuing a temporary flight restriction (TFR) that prohibits flight below 3,000 feet above ground level within a three-nautical-mile radius of "any major professional, collegiate, or any other major open air assembly of people."
  • Largely undefined as to when an event is under way or considered "off-limits" that is covered by the notam. Likewise it is unclear as to what is covered. For example the "Frederick Fair" may have as many as 10,000 attendees; is this covered? Perhaps even more importantly, is it necessary to be covered?
  • This type of imprecise information is in direct contrast with the precision that pilots are taught from the very inception of flight training. For example, pilots are specific in headings flown, areas to avoid by specific reference points of longitude and latitude and aviation navigation aids.
  • AOPA has been insisting for months that the TSA eliminate or revise this notam because the wording is vague, confusing, and virtually unenforceable. On July 12 and then again on July 31, AOPA President Phil Boyer wrote to the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expressing our strong concerns about this issue and recommended language to revise the notam. This has also been the topic of meetings and numerous calls to the TSA. It is now being debated in Congress.
  • On September 10, TSA announced that there is "an enormous seriousness to TFRs" and warned pilots not to violate any TFR. How can pilots be held accountable when the notam is so poorly written?
  • Another area of concern with the TFRs resulting from the notam is that it effectively closes nontowered airports near stadiums during events, but the FAA notam system does not alert pilots to the locations or times of these events. AOPA found there are more than 22 nontowered GA airports within 3 nm of Division 1A college football stadiums seating 50,000 or more people. And there are literally thousands of minor league stadiums, high school athletic fields, and fairgrounds within three miles of airports, and very few of them are marked on aeronautical charts.
  • The bottom line of this is: Pilots cannot be reasonably expected to comply with a notam that is absolutely devoid of any information about the thousands of events presumably "protected" by this "blanket" restriction. Nor can the FAA or TSA enforce the notam.
  • The TSA must be mindful of its requirement to regulate for security purposes based on threat, not public perception. In the "Important Security Notice" issued by the TSA for September 11, 2002, the wording, "...the apprehension produced when an airplane approaches or over flies a stadium" was cited as part of the justification for the TFR. This type of emotionalism should not be invoked by the TSA.
  • AOPA strongly recommends either revoking the notam, or if the TSA contends restrictions over large events are needed, the notam must be immediately revised using the following principles:
  1. The scope of the TFR should be large-crowd events taking place in open-air (including those with retractable domes) stadiums with a seating capacity of 30,000 or more.
  2. The prohibition on aircraft operations should apply within a three-nautical-mile radius/3,000 feet above ground level of the stadium, except for aircraft arriving at or departing from airports under ATC control (or at nontowered airports) using standard air traffic procedures.
  3. The TFR should be in effect one hour prior to the event until one hour after the event.
  4. The TFR would apply to professional football, professional baseball, division 1-A college football, and other events specifically identified by the TSA.

Banner towers, NASCAR drivers, aerial coverage, and others needing aviation access

  • During the period since the blanket stadium notam, the FAA has issued waivers to aerial banner towers, NASCAR drivers, blimp operators, and others needing access to these events covered by notam 3353.
  • On September 10, 2002, the Office of Homeland Security implemented Threat Condition Orange (High Risk) across the United States, imposing flight restrictions on some aircraft operators and pulling the waivers from notam 3353. These restrictions will remain in place until the Threat Condition is reduced. AOPA had been working with TSA prior to this to enhance the procedures used for issuing the waivers. Our goal had been to prevent the grounding of the operators.
  • Banner towers operate with a commercial pilot certificate and their aircraft must be maintained to comply with FAA airworthiness regulations for commercial aircraft. Banner towing is a safe and secure operation that has taken place for decades.
  • Aircraft used for aerial advertising operations weigh on the average of 2,200 pounds and have a normal cruise speed of approximately 100 knots. Due to the commercial nature of these activities, banner-towing businesses operate under strict FAA regulation and oversight. The banner-towing industry performing flights around stadiums has an excellent safety record.
  • Once the threat condition is lowered, the TSA and FAA plan to permit banner towers and blimp operators, operating under Federal Aviation Regulation Part 91, to apply for waivers permitting flights over stadiums and open-air assemblies, pending certain conditions.
  • AOPA recommends the following criteria for issuing waivers to notam 3353:
  1. Pilots and required crewmembers must be fingerprinted and clear a background check to include a criminal history records check by the FBI and the TSA Watch List.
  2. Aircraft are secured when not in use.
  3. No unauthorized passengers are on board the aircraft.

September 19, 2002