Tips for navigating TFRs

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Election season brings Presidential TFRs on short notice

Election season is upon us which means a significant increase in presidential and vice-presidential travel and the temporary flight restriction (TFR) that follows.

A TFR is a regulatory action that temporarily restricts aircraft from operating within a defined area in order to protect people or property in the air or on the ground.  TFRs are issued by NOTAM which underscores the importance of reviewing NOTAMs as part of your preflight activity. And if you have the benefit of receiving the ADS-B data en-route, you can also receive the information via the Flight Information Service (FIS) broadcast and even display TFR information on your EFB via your favorite app.

TFRs can be issued for a number of reasons including natural disasters, major sporting events and, of course, VIP travel. For security purposes. TFRs that follow the President and Vice President are typically issued only a few days in advance, but often times, intended destinations are known even further in advance. Therefore, while it’s important, as pilots, to stay apprised of NOTAMs and the issuance of TFRs, you may get more advanced warning by simply keeping watch of the local and national news.

Presidential TFRs usually consist of an outer ring of typically a 30nm radius (this can vary slightly to include or exclude a specific airport) and an inner ring typically a 10nm radius. Altitudes are typically from the surface to 17,999’ MSL (or the start of Class A airspace). The inner, 10nm ring is most restrictive and typically does not allow for any general aviation aircraft operations and can effectively close down airports that lie within this area for the duration of the TFR.

There are some limited exceptions to inner ring operations related to certain “gateway” airports that can be designated to give, primarily business aviation aircraft, the opportunity to be vetted and given permission to operate as well as TFR “cut-outs” to permit some particularly high-volume business aviation airports to remain open.

The outer, 30nm ring is less restrictive, but still requires permission via an IFR clearance and flight plan or, for a VFR aircraft transitioning the outer ring airspace, approval from the controlling ATC facility with an active VFR flight plan and a discrete transponder code.  Operations are limited to aircraft arriving or departing local airports and aircraft must be squawking the discrete code prior to departure and at all times while in the TFR and must remain in two-way radio communications with ATC. In other words, aircraft can’t loiter or “hand-out” in the area.

In the case of Vice-Presidential travel, TFRs normally consist of a single 3nm ring with the same restrictions as the outer ring of a Presidential TFR meaning aircraft may transition with proper approval although airports hosting the Vice President will generally close at least for the time of VP arrival and departure.

Stadium TFRs

The start of NFL football also reminds us of another popular TFR – the “stadium TFR.” The blanket stadium TFR applies to all NFL venues and any sporting even venue with a capacity of at least 30,000 hosting NFL, Major League Baseball (MLB), NCAA division I football, NASCAR cup, Indy Car, or Champ Series race. Aircraft are prohibited from operating at 3,000’ AGL and below within 3nm of the venue.

Where to Find TFR Information

The official sources for TFR information are the FAA’s Graphic TFR web page and NOTAMs. Both will provide information regarding what TFRs are scheduled or are in effect. If you’re not utilizing an EFB to display stadium locations, venues are also available here.

While the NFL schedule should remain consistent, MLB is entering its playoff season which can make schedules less predictable.

To keep track of schedules

Major League Baseball

National Football League

NCAA Division I Football

NASCAR

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It was his first airplane trip at age seven that made Eric decide to become a pilot. "While boarding the airplane, a flight attendant noticed my interest in the flight deck and urged me to go talk to the pilot. I give a lot of credit to that pilot for my career choice." He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and went on to an airline career. Eric now heads Sporty’s flight school and directs the University of Cincinnati’s Professional Pilot Training Program. In addition, Eric serves as a Captain in Sporty’s corporate flight department.