AOPA demands better response time on presidential TFRs

July 30, 2003

The Honorable Marion C. Blakey
Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591

Dear Administrator Blakey:

As you are very aware, general aviation pilots have become very frustrated with the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) inability to publish timely notification regarding the establishment of presidential-movement temporary flight restrictions (TFRS). Less than 12 hours advance notice has become the norm, and the problem is growing increasingly worse with each passing week. To make matters worse, presidential-movement TFRs have recently ballooned in size from the standard 5-mile radius to a whopping 30-mile radius, which translates into a huge impact on general aviation operations.

Those of us at AOPA who deal with your agency fully understand and are quite sympathetic to the fact that the FAA is dependent on the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration, and others for TFR coordination. However, the FAA has a responsibility as the regulator of aviation to press for a more timely release of this TFR information, and then to execute its rapid release once all the agencies have agreed.

This late notification is particularly troubling because AOPA has no difficultly obtaining President Bush's travel schedule a week or more in advance, through a variety of unclassified public sources. A perfect example is Friday, July 18, when AOPA learned that the President was planning to be in the Philadelphia and Detroit areas the following Thursday (almost a full week in advance). However, at the normal close of business on Wednesday, July 23, the FAA had NOT published the flight restrictions for the very next morning, in areas of heavy general aviation operations. This means that flight service stations could not warn pilots who did their flight planning that Wednesday evening. As the national press heavily reported, a pipeline patrol pilot subsequently found himself on the wrong end of an F-16 and 30 drawn guns Thursday after innocently flying over President Bush's motorcade in Philadelphia. It cannot have helped matters that the notice to airmen (notam) establishing the TFR was not issued until late the night before, or that the effective time was extended that very morning. The FAA waited so long to get the word out about the TFR that it was bound to cause problems.

This scenario could have had disastrous consequences including the ultimate enforcement action, the use of deadly force. Given the operational impacts of these TFRs and the enforcement consequences, it is not difficult to understand our concern.

Once again, Marion, AOPA realizes that the FAA is not fully responsible for the size and scope of these TFRs, but the FAA does bear responsibility for efficient management of the National Airspace System (NAS) and has an obligation to work to mitigate the impact and provide timely notification to its general aviation customers.

The events of 9/11 forever changed the airspace-operating environment. In the past 21 months, the proliferation of security-related flight restrictions has necessitated that AOPA make changes in the way it does business. Recognizing that the FAA's notam system is a poor means to communicate quickly, AOPA set up a process to communicate information to pilots, both on our Web site and through e-mail messages to members who will be impacted by a TFR. This means that we have committed the appropriate staff and resources to the task, working well into the night if necessary, to get information into the hands of pilots. For instance, our association has people assigned around the clock to monitor the notams from your agency, and then set in motion several other departments within our building to produce the graphics, disseminate an e-mail to affected pilots in a 250-nm radius of the TFR, post on our Web site, etc.

What steps has the FAA taken to respond to the post-9/11 flight environment and the necessity of providing timely information to pilots? We have not seen any significant changes with regard to staffing levels or the establishment of a 24/7 regime like ours, with regard to the dissemination of notams. AOPA has an expectation that the FAA should work just as hard as industry to provide adequate advance notice by publishing important TFR notams with more than 12 hours lead time.

I can assure you, America's general aviation pilots do not want to violate presidential TFRs, but with last-minute notification, they are not given a fighting chance!

Sincerely,

Phil Boyer

July 30, 2003