As we approach the 2012 election season the number of Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) will significantly increase as the president travels more frequently across the US campaigning for re-election. While TFRs can be established for a variety of security purposes, presidential TFRs tend to be the most common and restrictive type. These typically restrict all flight training operations within a 10 or 12 NM radius area around the area where the president is visiting, and extend from the surface to 17,999 feet MSL (this zone is commonly called the inner core). An outer ring then extends around the inner core out to 30 NM, and requires all aircraft to be on an IFR or VFR flight plan, be on a discrete transponder code and be in contact with ATC. You’ll also see smaller TFRs established for other VIPs which typically extend 3 miles out from the center of the visit and up to 3,000 feet AGL.
TFR awareness is towards the top of my priority list during flight planning. With today’s multiple forms of electronic communication and flight planning services there’s no excuse for not being aware of a TFR. Here’s a list of resources to make sure a TFR never sneaks up on you.
1. Official Flight Service Station (FSS) weather briefing
Calling FSS at 1-800-WX-BRIEF is the best way to make sure you’re getting the most current TFR information for your route of flight. And if the briefer doesn’t mention anything about TFRs during the briefing, make it a point to if at the end of the call to verify that there are none scheduled anywhere near your planned flight.
2. FAA TFR website
The FAA’s official TFR website is available at tfr.faa.gov. While this isn’t the most user-friendly website out there, the fact that it comes right from the source and doesn’t rely on third party dissemination adds some value. The easiest way to use this site it is to first zoom into the TFR map for the area you’ll be flying (TFRs are shown with red lines), and then select a TFR from the list below the map for all the details.
3. FAA Safety email notifications
One of the benefits from signing up for an account at the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) website is the automatic email notifications, including an option to receive alerts for upcoming VIP Movement and their associated TFRs. After signing up for a free account at www.faasafety.gov, click on your email address in the upper right of the screen and select My Preferences and Profile. Here you can specify email options, and you’ll want to check the box next to Selected ATC Notices to receive the TFR alerts. One thing to point out is you will only receive alerts for the region around your zip code, so you won’t get notices for the entire country.
4. AOPA Member TFR email notifications
If you’re an Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) member, I’d recommend signing up to receive their TFR email notifications. To get on the list, email AOPA Member Services at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be added to the TFR email alert list. These typically arrive around the same time as the FAA Safety email alerts and have helpful links to both the AOPA & FAA websites for more information.
5. Mobile flight planning apps
Many iPhone, iPad and Android aviation apps incorporate TFR maps and descriptions into their flight planning tools, which is especially helpful since many of us carry these devices with us everywhere we go. I find the ForeFlight Mobile and Garmin Pilot apps especially useful, since they allow you to overlay the TFRs on VFR Sectionals and IFR En Route charts, making it easy to see what airports are affected and how to plan around the restricted area.
6. TFRs on Twitter
Twitter is one of my favorite ways to stay up on current events, and it’s also a great way to keep up on TFRs. One source to follow is the FAA twitter feed (@FAANews), but I find that the TFR info often gets lost with all their other news postings. While not an official source, I like to keep a close eye on the VIP TFR Info feed (@VIP_TFR), which only posts tweets on TFRs and includes a direct link to the official NOTAM on the FAA’s site.
7. In-flight TFR updates over ADS-B
Portable ADS-B receivers have become very popular in the last several months, mainly because they offer subscription-free weather in the cockpit. In addition to providing NEXRAD radar and text weather products, ADS-B also provides near real-time TFR updates in the air. For example when using the wireless Stratus ADS-B weather receiver with ForeFlight Mobile on the iPad, you can see the TFR boundaries depicted on VFR/IFR charts along with your route. This provides great peace of mind in the air to complement the briefings you received on the ground.