General aviation advocates in two regions where temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) regularly shut down several airports when the president is in town are renewing their fight to keep local aviation businesses afloat, leveraging AOPA-backed legislation that presses the FAA to study the issue.
AOPA has long supported minimizing TFR impacts on GA airports and believes the mandate for FAA involvement, included in the agency’s reauthorization bill signed in October, could chart a course to a solution.
She added that the reauthorization bill “requires the FAA administrator to conduct an analysis of the potential for using security procedures similar to the Maryland-Three Program during TFRs affecting New Jersey’s Solberg and Somerset airports, and Florida’s Palm Beach County Park Airport, also known as Lantana Airport. The airports are severely curtailed or shut down entirely when President Donald Trump visits his golf resort properties in Bedminster, New Jersey, and Palm Beach, Florida.
So far in 2018 there have been 40 days in which presidential security TFRs limited activity at the two New Jersey airports, said Suzanne Nagle, executive director of the New Jersey Aviation Association and a co-owner of Solberg airport. In 2017, the airports were under TFRs for 49 days.
“We believe we have a solution for that,” Nagle said of the procedures in effect at the three Maryland airports.
Nagle noted that the injurious economic effects of the TFRs are felt by a wide variety of New Jersey aviation activities from fixed-base operations at Solberg airport to a skydiving business in Alexandria and an annual summer balloon festival that occurs during peak flying season. The festival proceeded in 2018, but sightseeing flights from Solberg airport were prohibited, she said.
With TFR airspace stretching over much of the state and affecting bordering states, it’s difficult to quantify all the effects, she said. But a TFR's duration—up to two weeks if the president is in town for an extended stay—also is important. During peak flying season, even a weekend TFR can be financially disastrous. “Weekends are when most of the people want to fly, summer and fall,” she said. “What is not so easily identified is the loss revenue that the airport never knows about. There are aircraft owners/pilots/businesses that will not even consider using the three airports in question because they never know for sure when and if these airports will be open.”
AOPA has been the leading advocate in Washington, D.C., to find a solution for TFR impacts on airports and will continue to work on the issue. “The TFRs have caused real and serious problems,” said Sakata.
In June 2017, six members of Congress jointly sent a letter to the director of the U.S. Secret Service expressing the need for innovative methods to mitigate VIP TFRs’ impact on general aviation. The letter suggested implementing enhanced egress and ingress procedures similar to the Maryland-Three Program.
AOPA worked with members of Congress from New Jersey and Florida to include the provision in the FAA reauthorization bill (H.R. 302), that requires the FAA to develop a report on methods for mitigating the impact of TFRs associated with the president’s travels.
Also, AOPA worked with Congress to include $3.5 million of reimbursement funds in the fiscal year 2019 Transportation Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill for non-gateway airports and businesses that are required to close during presidential TFRs. The Senate passed its THUD bill as part of a package of appropriations bills that must still pass the House.
Frank Steinberg, President of the Mid Atlantic Aviation Coalition believes the vetting of pilots by security officials and the operating rules that keep the Maryland-Three airports functioning could keep the affected New Jersey airports up and running during TFRs, which he said cover roughly the entire northern half of New Jersey.
“There’s no reason why an aircraft with a vetted flight instructor should not be able to take off, instruct outside the TFR, and then fly back in,” he said.
Sakata added that “as FAA certificate holders, all pilots are vetted by the security officials on a daily basis. Using the Maryland-Three Program concept and available technologies, it is possible to implement enhanced security procedures that allow egress and ingress at airports located within the 10-nautical-mile no-fly zone of a VIP TFR.”
Nagle said she remains hopeful that continued outreach to elected officials will produce progress, and she emphasized the importance of the pilot community keeping itself informed on the issue and making its voice heard.
“The solution is to sit down and talk about it,” she said. “Make the president safe, but still let people fly.”
With Trump’s seasonal vacation travels shifting to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, a TFR was set to be in effect there from Nov. 20 to 26. AOPA reminds pilots to check notices to airmen before every flight and frequently after that for updates. Between 2017 and 2018, there have been 268 violations of Bedminster TFRs and 160 violations of TFRs in Palm Beach.
AOPA works closely with the FAA and Secret Service to increase pilot awareness of TFRs and to improve the notam process.