Two intercepts during recent presidential trips to the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes regions are raising concerns that pilots who get caught where they're not supposed to be don't know how to respond.
"Sixty nm-wide presidential-movement TFRs (temporary flight restrictions) continue to be the norm when President Bush travels outside the Washington, D.C., area," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "AOPA believes those TFRs are excessively large and continues to push security officials for more realistic dimensions. But until that happens, GA pilots have got to know about and avoid the TFRs, and know what to do if they're intercepted. The consequences of not knowing could be deadly."
AOPA and the Air Safety Foundation have a number of tools, including an intercept procedures card and special e-mail alerts about the TFRs for ePilot and ePilot Flight Training Edition subscribers, available online to help pilots cope.
"If you haven't already done so, print the intercept card, clip it, learn it, laminate it, and carry it. It could save your life," said Boyer. "Interceptors have shoot-down authority if a violating aircraft is considered a direct threat to the President."
The best way for a pilot to avoid picking up a wingtip escort is to stay out of restricted airspace. ASF's Know Before You Go is an excellent review of airspace, including TFRs.
Of course, knowing how to deal with a TFR is of no use if a pilot doesn't know when or where the restrictions are. The FAA is routinely issuing TFR notams just hours before they go into effect.
Again, AOPA has a tool that can help— AOPA ePilot. Members who subscribe to ePilot or ePilot Flight Training Edition receive special e-mail alerts whenever a presidential TFR is established within 250 miles. AOPA makes every effort to send the e-mail alerts no later than late afternoon local time the day before the President is scheduled to arrive. If the notam has been issued, the specific information is included in the alert. If the notam has not been published in a timely manner, AOPA will send out an alert warning of the anticipated TFR, based on publicly available information about the President's trip, and urging pilots to be especially certain to get a briefing just before taking off.
"Any day you're planning to fly, it's in your best interest to know where the President is," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs. "Keep in mind that if he's in a town 35 miles down the road, you'll be directly affected.
"Pilots need to remember to check for notams one last time just before taking off. But we understand that sometimes even with the best preparation, pilots get caught unaware. That's why AOPA makes tools like the e-mail alerts, intercept card, and online education available—to keep pilots out of harm's way while respecting the need to protect the President."