I read with interest this morning a little-noticed article in the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette entitled “Obama Air Space Curbs Worry Pilots.” The story notes the increasing angst among the general aviation (GA) community, as well as in the recreational aviation business, in Martha’s Vineyard of the expected Presidential family vacation to the island.
The GA community expects that the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) will issue a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) to increase security during the family’s visit. TFRs, for those not familiar, “defines an area restricted to air travel due to a hazardous condition, a special event, or a general warning for the entire FAA airspace.” The FAA sends out detailed information on a TFR through a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM). Given the necessary security precautions taken to protect to the President and other VIPS, notice often comes a couple of days, at most, before enforcement.
Following 9/11, the focus on TFRs among the GA community increased significantly as their use significantly. The increases use of TFRs occurred for a variety of reasons, including increased concern over the security of certain high-risk locations (i.e. New York and D.C.), regulations that allowed for TFRs to be put in place for major sports events and air shows, and an increase in natural disasters such as wildfires that required restrictions for public safety reasons. (Note: In addition to TFRs, there are certain Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZs) that provide a more permanent no-fly zone around cities and areas such as D.C. As those of us who live in Washington know, there have been several scares requiring evacuted government buildings and dispatched fighter jets resulting from air violations.)
As TFRS increased, there were rumblings among some in the GA community that TFRs and ADIZs shoul be scaled back, especially as more unknowing pilots found themselves facing criminal charges or other enforcement action for violating the restricted air space. Those rumblings, however, seem to have calmed down some in the last couple of years as the restrictions became more of the norm and groups like the Aircraft Oowners and Pilots Association (AOPA) increased efforts to educate and provide instructions to the GA community about FAA TFR NOTAMs.
Getting back to the Gazette story, I wonder if we will see a renewal to revisit the TFR/ADIZ debate in a more comprehensive manner. The story notes that any TFR restrictions on Martha’s Vineyard could have a devastating economic effect on some of the small businesses operating tour and aviation services onto the island. In particular, the article profiled the owner of a biplane tour business, finding that he could lose more than an 1/8 of his business if a TFR was placed into effect during the Presidential visit. The article also noted that during the summer, approximately 70% of traffic into the island’s airport is from GA aircraft.
Whether this TFR issue will simply fly away is still to be seen. The difference from past arguments on the issue is an increased focus on the economic impact, especially on small businesses, caused by the security restriction. Given the state of the economy, will we see an economy versus security debate emerge?