AOPA President Phil Boyer today appealed directly to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey to give pilots the information they need to avoid temporary flight restriction (TFR) areas.
"I'm not defending the pilots who have violated TFRs," said Boyer. "It's our responsibility to get and understand the information. Sanctions against violators are appropriate.
"But the communication system is broken. And because of that, the general public thinks GA pilots are a security threat and can't abide by the rules. That's not true.
"How can the FAA expect pilots to avoid airspace when they are not given the proper information, maps, and tools to plot a course around the restricted areas?"
Boyer said the current system is much like 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. freeways, with no map and all the street signs covered up.
AOPA has multiple reports of flight service station briefers failing to provide pilots with TFR notices to airmen (notams). In one case, an FSS briefer failed to tell the pilot about the security TFR around Washington, D.C., and failed to tell the pilot that his destination airport within that TFR was closed!
"But we pilots can understand how FAA employees—who should know this information better than anybody else—can make that kind of mistake," said Boyer. "The notam system is archaic and clogged with non-pertinent data. Textual descriptions of airspace boundaries are difficult to interpret."
Boyer again asked the FAA to give pilots direct Internet access to clear, concise notams that graphically depict current airspace restrictions.
Since November, AOPA has been providing maps of the security TFRs on its Web site, along with "plain language" interpretations of notams.
"However, we strongly believe that the government has a responsibility to provide this information," Boyer said. "Although I'm proud of the work AOPA has done, we are not the official source."
Boyer reminded Garvey that the FAA has been working on a graphical notam system since February, but the agency only intends to distribute the information to FSS briefers, not to pilots.
"Jane, the TFR notam situation is critical, and general aviation's future access to airspace hangs in the balance," Boyer wrote Administrator Garvey. "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!"