By now we’re guessing most everyone has at least heard the term “TFR” and perhaps even been affected by one. A Temporary Flight Restriction is a type of Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued by the FAA that defines an area with restricted air travel due to a hazardous condition, a special event, or a general warning for the entire airspace.
In the past, TFRs were primarily used to restrict air traffic over extraordinary ground based situations to protect the individuals involved and to facilitate the ingress and egress of aircraft working the situation. Typically TFRs are used to facilitate firefighting efforts, law-enforcement situations, and rescue operations during natural disasters.
At times they are used during large spectator events and open-air assemblies such as air shows and sporting events. They are also used during serious mishaps such as airplane crashes and most recently the western wildfires.
Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, TFRs have been increasingly used for security purposes to thwart potential terrorist activity. They are now being used to protect VIP travel around the country, high-profile international events such as the G-20 Summit and the Olympics, and NASA activities such as space shuttle operations at the Kennedy Space Center.
Until recently, model aviation (MA) was not significantly affected when a TFR was issued. However, in the post-September 11 era, model airplanes have come under much closer scrutiny and the performance capabilities of the current MA technology has heightened the perceived threat attributed to model aircraft.
The perceived threat has been accelerated by the advancements in the unmanned aircraft (UAV/UAS) arena and the lethal capability of the UAS operating in the Middle East. Unfortunately from a regulatory standpoint, we’re now closely
tied to commercial- and public-use UAS aircraft and, to an extent, viewed as presenting a similar security threat.
TFRs come in all shapes and sizes, and fortunately MA is only affected by those with the most stringent restrictions. TFRs affecting MA were first issued in 2004, as part of the security measures put in place for the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Since then, 100’s of TFRs have been issued restricting model airplane operations in locations across the country. TFRs are usually in effect for anywhere from a few hours to a few days; however, some have restricted MA activities for several weeks.
TFRs that have an impact on MA typically involve a 32 nautical-mile circle around a given set of coordinates. The circle establishes an area in which model airplane operations are prohibited during the specified times of the TFR. The prohibition of model airplane operations is specifically stated in the TFR in a paragraph restricting all sport aviation groups: “The following operations are not authorized within this TFR: flight training, practice instrument approaches, aerobatic flight, glider operations, parachute operations, ultra-light, hang gliding, balloon operations, agriculture/crop dusting, animal population control flight operations, banner towing operations, seaplane operations, sightseeing operations, maintenance test
flights, model aircraft operations, model rocketry, and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).”
From a security standpoint, the concept is to create a “sterile” area in which all nonessential air traffic is grounded and in which only those aircraft that are under positive air traffic control are allowed to fly. As such, anything else that pops up is
immediately considered suspect.
The FAA enacts and administers TFRs. However, the establishment and execution of the restrictions are a joint effort involving numerous federal, state, and local agencies including the Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Justice, and US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, just to name a few.
Although, on occasion, Flight Advisories are published in advance when TFRs are anticipated for upcoming events, TFR notices are typically distributed 24-48 hours before implementation. The short lead time is itself a security measure but brings with it the challenge of getting the information out to those affected by the restrictions.
The AMA is committed to keeping its members informed and is doing everything possible to get TFR information out to the membership in a timely manner. The Academy is currently included in the initial email distribution used in publishing the
TFRs. When a new TFR notice comes in, it is immediately posted on Facebook, Twitter, and the AMA Web site. The AMA membership records and club roster are searched, and an e-mail distribution is sent to all members and clubs in the affected area.
Any changes or updates to the TFR are posted to the Web and Twitter. Members can find the most up-to-date information by logging on to the AMA Web site or by following AMA on Facebook and Twitter.
From a modeler’s point of view, the first reaction might be, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” and the inclination may be to dismiss it and ignore the TFR, but under federal regulation, the US government may “pursue criminal charges”, so this issue is something to take serous.