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Temporary Flight Restricted Areas: Where Are They and How Do I Get the Information?

by Al Peyus
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News

The ground hog got it correct! We have had six plus more weeks of winter! It has turned out to include six more weeks of ice, snow, heavy rains, high winds, and low ceilings. Even the birds have had to sit it out more with the unusual weather this year! Spring is now ready to enter our lives! Are we ready for it?

During this down time, Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) areas have been receiving a lot of attention. Because of a wide variety of reasons, TFR's have been the focus of far too many 'Unintentional TFR air space penetration' investigations. Many of these occurred because the pilot trusted the Global Positioning System (GPS) installed in the aircraft. Some of the investigations were because the pilot was not aware of the TFR or its location. Can you identify the TFR's with their air space limitations located near your normal flying area?

There is a wide variety of ways and means for us to keep up to date with the National Airspace System and those constant and changeable TFR's. But before we can start digging for the various TFR's, their locations and limitations, we must understand what can produce a TFR. There are a wide variety of issues and reasons that impose temporary flight restrictions over a particular area.

There are the obvious air space controls imposed for Presidential protection, such as P-40. When Camp David is occupied, P-40 grows in all directions. The expansion is NOT shown on sectional charts but is discussed at length in Notices to Airmen (NOTAM)! Every time the President flies in Air Force One, there is a large block of moving air space that protects Air Force One. Because of September 11, 2001, a restriction, the area around Washington, DC, is now protected with a permanent TFR called a Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ).

Are there additional TFR protected air space beyond those that provide protected air space around the President and Vice-President? The answer is as simple and complex as the question itself. Of course there are! That's the simple part. Allow me to try to explain some of the complex parts of the answer and give you examples of each.

Every nuclear power plant has protected air space. The air space protected covers three statute miles (sm) in diameter from the center of the plant and up to 2,000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL). Every major league and college division one sports event has a TFR protecting it. The size and altitude of that protection can vary, but is generally three sm out and 2,000 feet AGL.

In the western mountainous areas, the fire season produces many TFR's. These are designed to keep civilian pilots from finding themselves face-to-face with a borate bomber or one of the spotting aircraft. When an earthquake shakes the United States, that area is covered with a TFR to allow rescue, supply, and government assistance to proceed without interruption. In the heartland of the United States from Minnesota to Texas during an active tornado season, a wide swath of TFR's can limit travel in this area. This is again for rescue, aid, and government oversight. Up and down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, there have been TFR's issued to protect the rescue and aid supplied to those caught in massive floods.

It does not have to be presidential protection, national security, or natural disasters that bring protected TFR air space out for us to avoid. Air shows and air races also have TFR protected air space around them. NASCAR, for the big events (30,000 people and larger), has air space protection. There are almost as many reasons for a TFR as there are TFR's.

None of us deliberately want to penetrate a TFR. That begs the next question. How do we plan a flight in our local area or a cross-country through air space we have not flown before, and assure ourselves that all will go well on our flight? Here in is the major problem facing us, the civilian pilots.

We were taught from the very first flight lesson to always contact a Flight Service Station (FSS), or the newer Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS), for a weather and NOTAM briefing. During this briefing we receive all the weather information we need to make the decisions necessary for a safe flight or not to fly at all. This information gives us the information to decide the route to fly, altitude, and alternate airport planning if needed.

During the NOTAM briefing, we listen closely to all that is being said by the briefer. Because of the way the AFSS/FSS system is designed, the NOTAM information may be buried in the large amount of data provided us. If we are following along marking a sectional, we have made our own pictorial map of the airspace! If not, then we are left guessing the exact area the controller was discussing.

Is the AFSS/FSS the only place to get information on TFR's? The obvious answer to this question is, No! The FAA does a good job of getting information out to the public.

On the FAA's website home page,, scan over to the right side of the page under - Quick Finds.' Scroll down to and click on 'Pilots: NOTAMS.' The next page is titled 'Welcome to PilotWeb' with a current date and time (ZULU). The first box with selections available is titled 'NOTAMs.' This includes Safety NOTAMs, Center NOTAMs, Radius Search, Flight Path Search, Graphic TFR's, Published Notices to Airmen, and 7930.9 Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) Approved NOTAM Contractions.

A massive amount of information is available to aid in keeping us safe and in circumventing an unwanted letter from the nearest Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). In the 'Graphic TFR' section, there is a list of each active TFR, the date it was posted, the facility that controls it, the state in which it resides, and a written description of the reason for the TFR.

The reasons can be an air show or sports events, VIP (normally held for the President, Vice-President, and visiting foreign dignitaries), security (national type), and hazards. The last one covers national disasters, local disasters such as Mount Saint Helen eruption, or any other location where rescue, aid, searching, or police/ government patrolling/observation is on going.

The 'Center NOTAMs' section has a selection box for TFR's and Special Notices. A search for information is divided by the various controlling Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC). By clicking on the desired area of flight and the controlling Center, you will discover the information and NOTAMs that are under the control of that Center. In the lower right hand corner of this page is a selection list for 'View All ARTCC TFR's,' 'View All GPS NOTAMs,' View All CARF NOTAMs,' and 'View All Special Notices.'

Another page, under 'Published Notices to Airmen' provides the electronic version of the printed 'Notices To Airmen' that is produced every 28 days. It is a fast, easy, and current way to assure you have the most current information that is ready for review. It is accessible by Edition Date and Effective Date. When you click on a date, a page opens that has 'Special Events in This Issue' that include 'Sporting & Entertainment Events' as well as 'Air Shows.' On the right side of the page is listed 'Contents In Every issue.' If you are trying to plan your routing around TFR's, you can get more exact information from 'Radius Search' or 'Flight Path Search.' Each will provide you the opportunity find TFR's along your path and aids to navigate around them.

The FAA provides a lot of information for our use. It is all designed to provide us with the information necessary to make a more informed decision for a safe and uneventful flight, allowing us to decide whether or not to take the flight.

Just as there are a variety of means and places to find weather information, there are also various locations to gather TFR information. The AOPA web site carries much of the same information as the FAA's web pages. Going into the AOPA web's home page we find a guide that will take us to several other pages that contain TFR information, questions about TFR's, and provides a relatively short quiz to help you understand TFR's and Special Use Air Space. For those on the East Coast there is an excellent information page on the Washington, DC ADIZ.

And if that is not enough web sites to gather and select data from for TFR's, using a search engine for Temporary Flight Restricted areas, I discovered there are 430,000 sites that contain some information on this subject.

With all this data available, why would any of us deliberately place ourselves in a position to enter, nick, or even get close to a TFR? Sometimes we rely heavily on the on-board navigation equipment. The GPS has been touted as the best thing since sliced bread. It is very good and is a fantastic aid to navigation. But it is only an aid. It must be updated periodically and we must fully understand how it works and how to make it work for us. We must have a means and manner to assure the data is correct, current, and viable. Normally, the currency date shown at the start-up of the equipment will provide that for us. As with all phases of flight, it is the pilot- In-command who has the final authority with the responsibility to start, proceed, and complete a flight safely. It is our navigation skills using the interpretation of the information received from our navigational equipment that will keep us from inadvertently penetrating a TFR. We cannot delegate that authority to an electronic piece of equipment.

Take the time to look at these and other web sites that provide information on TFR's and Special Use Air Space. You will be amazed at the overwhelming amount of data available as well as the exacting information at your fingertips! Enjoy your flying, stay safe, and stay up with the changes in our National Air Space System with those changeable TFR's!

Al Peyus is an Aviation Safety Inspector with Flight Standards Service's General Aviation and Commercial Division.

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