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Republican convention brings airspace restrictionsRepublican convention brings airspace restrictions

Republican convention brings airspace restrictions
Don't become a "track of interest"

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The Republican National Convention hits New York City starting Monday. That means two things for pilots - airspace around New York will either be off-limits or severely restricted to general aviation, and military and security types will be keeping a very close eye on their radar screens, looking at the tracks of any radar targets within 30 nm or so of New York.

The first temporary flight restrictions will actually go into place Sunday morning for Vice President Cheney's arrival at Newark and his trip into New York City. Much larger TFRs start Monday morning at 7 a.m. and include essentially the entire footprint of New York Class B airspace, from the surface to 17,999 feet.

"Because of concerns over the al Qaeda threats to disrupt the electoral process, security on the ground and in the air is going to be tight - and on a hair trigger," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "We know that federal authorities will be watching closely for any suspicious radar tracks in or near the Class B airspace. If you 'loiter' or maneuver or do anything other than 'in and out' within the TFR area, you'll get a very close look at a military fighter or a Customs Blackhawk."

The TFRs will establish a 7-nautical-mile-radius no-fly zone for general aviation aircraft around lower Manhattan. That puts La Guardia (LGA) Airport, Little Ferry Seaplane Base (2N7), and a handful of heliports off-limits to GA. There is a small cutout to allow VFR and IFR departures and arrivals only from Teterboro (TEB), provided they comply with the restrictions below. Pilots and passengers should also expect to have to pass through an airline-type security screening and should have photo identification.

GA flights are restricted within the rest of the lateral limits of the New York Class B airspace, from the surface to 17,999 feet. There is an exclusion that will allow arrivals and departures below 2,000 feet msl from Farmingdale Republic (FRG) and Westchester County (HPN) airports. There are also special ingress/egress procedures for Morristown (MMU), New Jersey ( see below).

All other fixed-wing flights within the TFR area and outside the 7-nm no-fly zone must operate on a VFR or IFR flight plan. You must have a discrete transponder code and remain in constant communication with air traffic control. It's also important that you do not change that code until you are on the ground or outside of the TFR, unless instructed to do otherwise by ATC. Don't change over to the VFR squawk when ATC switches you to the CTAF frequency, even if that's your normal procedure within the Class B airspace.

You are expected to enter or exit the TFR/Class B airspace using the most direct routes between the airport and the TFR boundaries. You can't fly between airports within the TFR area. Within the TFR, flight training, practice instrument approaches, pattern work, flights that involve maneuvering (such as pipeline patrol and agriculture operations), balloons, gliders, ultalights, and parachutes are prohibited.

There are special ingress/egress procedures for Morristown, New Jersey (MMU). During the time the control tower is operating, pilots will be able to arrive and depart the airport by talking directly with the tower (118.1) and flying below 3,000 feet within the ingress/egress corridor, a 6-mile-wide path extending to the northwest in the vicinity of Route 10. A flight plan won't be required.

Anything other than a straight track in or near the TFR becomes a "track of interest" to the security folks and invites an intercept from an F-15, F-16, or Blackhawk helicopter with armed federal agents onboard. Becoming a track of interest may also earn you a nice long chat with federal agents once you get on the ground. Changing your transponder code or failing to talk to ATC will likely have the same result.

"Pilots should check for notams immediately prior to each flight," said Cebula. "These procedures are the best advance look we have at what the actual notam will be, but changes in the security situation could easily change the procedures."

August 27, 2004

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