Super Bowl XLIX is set to kick off Feb. 1, and the crowd in Glendale, Arizona, will be under the protection of North American Aerospace Defense Commander Adm. Bill Gortney, a veteran naval aviator (and general aviation pilot who once owned a Citabria with a fellow officer). With the game around the corner, Gortney sat down with AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines to talk safety on AOPA Live—particularly the safety of GA operators who might be planning operations in the vicinity. Gortney's advice applies to any flight: Planning and preparation are always good prevention against poor performance. Pilots should pay close attention to the flight restrictions recently published by the FAA, which include a 30-nautical-mile radius TFR around the stadium, extending up to and including 17,999 feet from 3:25 until 11 p.m. local time.
Gortney said thorough preflight briefing and planning goes a long way toward preventing inadvertent violations of restricted airspace.
“If you’re going to go flying for a day, look at it, see if there’s something that’s out there, just as you would check your weather, your notams,” Gortney said. “We want to keep it safe.”
A PDF version of the notam has also been published, detailing for law enforcement officials the procedures to report and prosecute operators who fly unmanned aircraft in violation of the TFR. Gortney noted that small, consumer-grade unmanned aircraft are selling like hotcakes—about 15,000 a month—and one crashed in recent days on the White House grounds. The FAA has yet to enact regulations specific to the operation and use of quadcopters and similar unmanned vehicles, and education is also needed.
“I think we’re shooting behind the duck, here,” Gortney said of the regulatory situation, though he is not especially concerned about drones from a Super Bowl security standpoint. “We’ll have a pretty good capability to detect those and to defend against those.”
Instead, he shares the aviation community's concern about the inability of small, unmanned aircraft to “see and avoid” other aircraft, and the potential for midair collisions with manned aircraft.
“It’s a safety issue to me more than anything else,” Gortney said.
GA pilots are part of the security effort, and encouraged to report any safety or security concern by calling 866/GA-SECURE (866/427-3287).
If a TFR is missed and inadvertently violated, Gortney said that following the military’s lead is crucial.
“If an F-16 or an F-18 pulls up on your wing, it’s probably not a good day,” Gortney said. “Don’t run away, just look to ‘em … Just follow them wherever they’re going to take you.”
Those fighter pilots are keen to safeguard everybody—including errant aviators.
“They’re trying to help you get to a safe place,” Gortney said. “People make mistakes, and that’s OK.”
AOPA has prepared a handy guide to intercept procedures, and the Air Safety Institute's Know Before You Go online course covers the details of navigating airspace, including TFR avoidance and other special flight rules and procedures. AOPA has also prepared a one-page briefing on TFR compliance.