Going flying? Be sure to check FSS for TFRs

A case study from Southwest Florida

It was a CAVU day and I decided to fly to Venice for breakfast, a trip I’ve taken perhaps one hundred times. As always, I checked the weather conditions, NOTAMs for Naples and Venice, checked the FAA website for TFRs, dialed up ATIS, called for clearances, notified tower of a 330 departure heading, and I was off. I have ADS-B onboard so traffic and weather were continuously updated and I was monitoring Ft. Myers departure on 119.75.

Arriving after the short trip to Venice, I was met at the plane and handed a slip of paper with a phone number and told to call Ft. Myers approach. Since I hadn’t flown through any Class Charlie airspace I was puzzled as to what I could have done. The voice at the other end of the line announced I had flown through a TFR. Yikes! After explaining what measures I had taken to prepare for my flight, he asked if I would return to Page Field Ft. Myers (KFMY) for an interview… an invitation I felt I couldn’t refuse.

TFR map at FAA site
The FAA admits that their own TFR map isn’t comprehensive. Is that fair?

When I met my interviewer at Page, his first question was whether I had done this on purpose. I explained that I am on the FAA TFR email notification list, having received the Palm Beach TFR only three days earlier, but nothing for the Ft. Myers area. I went on to explain that I had $9,000 invested in ADS-B equipment to receive a graphical display of TFRs and had previously checked the FAA website. By the way, there is a disclaimer on the site that says it might not be up to date.

Anyway, when I realized that he didn’t seem to understand much of which I spoke, I asked him what department he was with. His reply was “Secret Service.” He asked, again: Did I do this intentionally? Upon hearing “no,” he left.

When I returned to Naples, I promptly filed a NASA report and gathered up all the evidence I could find. I called Ft. Myers approach to discuss the situation and was very politely told the issue had been sent to Miami FSDO. On Monday I called Miami and was told they knew nothing about this and suggested I call Tampa FSDO. Tampa told me to try Orlando FSDO, where I was informed that a group in Birmingham, Alabama, would be handling my case of “Pilot Deviation.” Worth mentioning is that all FAA personal were very courteous.

After a little over two weeks, I received a call from Porter Mayberry, FAA Birmingham. He explained that there were many of these unintentional deviations and that the FAA, now being kinder and gentler, were offering remedial training instead of fines and pulling one’s license. I offered up a little background. I receive the equivalent of two or three biennial flight reviews each year: Pilot Workshops and Sporty’s video training, EAA Young Eagles pilot, Naples Airport tour volunteer, airport advocate/speaker before Naples City Council, Naples Airport Authority, and Naples Noise Compatibility Committee. Oh, as a bonus, 70 years old and no traffic tickets. So, the last thing I want to do is bust a TFR.

Now, how serious am I about equipment? HSI, three-axis autopilot, backup wing leveler, two GPSs, two transponders, radio altimeter, two handheld transceivers, and ADS-B in and out – the very equipment that is supposed to show the TFRs and how I was caught. The irony!

Mr. Mayberry was impressed, but said his only options were to offer the online remedial training or “escalate” this issue. He did add that of the last 700 pilot deviations he handled, this one had some serious mitigating circumstances and offered to move it up the chain to see if the FAA could use my pilot deviation to implement better service to pilots.

True to his word, he phoned me back at 6:30 that evening and informed me that as far as they were concerned, the matter would be dropped. Apparently not all of the bureaucrats are ready to pounce on us without reflecting on the overall performance of the FAA, at least when it comes to disseminating flight/weather/safety information in a complete and timely manner.

The bottom line: to be complete in your pre-flight, even a local flight, call Flight Service. It may be the only source for the TFR. The FAA maintains that the only authoritative source for TFRs is a phone call to FSS.

19 Comments

  • Bruce:

    Your experience seems extremely strange. In your research, did you ever find evidence that the TFR was ever published? And if you were monitoring Ft. Myers Approach, did they indicate to anyone that a TFR was active? I wonder if you were caught in a “pop up” TFR that wasn’t properly vetted or properly published by the FAA? A classic multi-agency Snafu.

    • An important thing to remember is that in spite of the system shortcomings, the FAA was willing to look at the failures…on many levels…and let my transgression pass. I’m confident that there are efforts to make the TFRs available instantaneously, upon activation, and to all available sources. Neither AOPA or Foreflight had the info, either. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  • I am not a fan of ADS-B. They said it was supposed to eliminate things like this, & now I see they are using this to catch I inervent flyers that could they could be fined for or worse. Also I heard of a Cessna and a military jet the crashed & both had ADS-B. So what are we to think?

  • Was there a NOTAM published for this TFR?

    If so, when?

    If published, how much time elapsed between your online check and boarding your airplane?

    Should we be phoning FSS after runup?

    • I check notams at both Naples and Venice…not mentioned. What surprises me is that the normal northbound VFR corridor out of Naples is 330 degrees, a heading i gave to tower on departure…this is to avoid the class C at Ft Myers. Apparently Naples wasn’t even aware of the TFR just up the road.

      There was about 30 minutes between the notam and on-line TFR check and the take-off roll. I was never able to acquire the time that the TFR was given to Flight Service. There, apparently was some confusion as to whether VP Pence was actually going to Sanibel Island since that was the weekend he also went to S. Korea.

      Certainly, with all the technology we have today, one would think that once a TFR is announced that all FAA sources would get that info very quickly…hopefully they are working on it.

  • This is a traffic control “system”?? What is systematic about having to telephone an FSS in this day and age? What is systematic about the other 21st-century aids not having the info? The FAA, if it is truly interested in a serious “system”wide review, must look into their own system. And, in case they miss my meaning, openly expose the errors that they made. A “system” has 2-way responsibilities – and self-reporting on errors made applies as much to them as to us.

    Just because their name begins with FAA does NOT mean they are free from admitting their own errors.

    Richard Tamir

  • Make the two minute phone call to Lockmart, ask for an abbreviated briefing and specifically about TFRs along your anticipated route. Get your voice request on the recording, cover your six and move on. Its no big deal.

  • This bs needs to stop enough with the ridiculous tfr, has done nothing to make anybody safer in any way. Homeland security reaching past what it should. I would have thought by now someone would have realized you are giving a memo to where the people you are supposed to be protecting will be,(secret service)(lol), most stupid rationalisation I have witnessed in my sixty years. If Aopa wannted to be productive it should be lobbying or better still taking this stupidity to court and get it stopped sixteen years is long enough. It does not work as could be seen by a gyrocopter landing on the front lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Lets not put up with this!

    • We will have to put up with TFRs. They are NOT going away. It isn’t just the president or the vice-president who gets a TFR. There are TFRs for sporting events and similar venues, both at the pro and college levels. Some TFRs are (or should be) obvious. Do you want to sight-see near a NASA rocket launch? I don’t think anybody in a GA aircraft could outfly a runaway rocket.

      There is nothing we can do about TFRs. Nothing. Nobody at the government levels needed to remove TFRs from our airspace is going to even propose such a thing. My suggestion would be to do as Bruce suggests and contact FSS to get a briefing so you don’t wander into an active TFR. I don’t think an escort of F-16s is something you want in your logbook.

      I doubt that we’ll even see a more common sense approach and we do need that in the Florida TFRs for our current president.

      On a related note, I attended a Wings seminar on TFRs conducted by a couple of Air National Guard F-16 pilots. They DO mean business and it is in the best interest of EVERY pilot to make certain he or she knows what to do if you get buzzed by an F-16. They told a couple of anecdotal stories that were chilling and left us wondering about the sanity of the offending pilots. I have no doubt that at some point in the chain, they will shoot at you… and most likely they will not miss.

      We’ll have to learn to adapt to TFRs and the upcoming privatization of ATC. It’s coming, folks. I don’t like it one bit, but it’s coming.

      • …and I agree with Harvey that the TFRs will forever be with us. I would hope, not only I have learned a lesson, but that the FAA can do better to get them published in a timely fashion…and to all sources that the FAA has, such as the FAA TFR list, notams, ATC in the vicinity of the TFR…and especially ADS-B which is promoted by the FAA, in its quest to promote new installations, as a graphic depiction of the TFR. I have a photo of my GPS a few minutes before entering the TFR…surprise, no red ring! Wasn’t one an hour later.

  • Me too, Bruce. I hope the FAA can do a better job publishing TFR presence in a more prominent and timely manner. We shouldn’t be punished for busting a TFR that we had no way of knowing was there. My fear is that somebody is going to get hurt for having done everything correctly.

    I was a bit grumpy yesterday evening, so I apologize for the rant. I’m just not very optimistic about the future of GA. I’ve had a great time flying over the years and I want the same privileges for my grand- and great-grandkids. I hope they will be able to have the freedom to fly just as I did.

    • Harvey, I think we are all a little nervous about the future of GA. I’m, probably, the last person who should be owning a plane…from the expense standpoint. I do, however, take care of my Commander to an extreme. Not only the pride of ownership, but the necessity of safety prevents me from doing any less.

      Additional costs from issues like ADS-B, and now the possibility of user fees, certainly will help put our hobby in jeopardy. Shrinking pilot ranks don’t help, either. Young people, today, are risk aversive..i’ll bet scuba and sky diving have taken a hit. And I’m pretty sure those fuel fees won’t be lowered if privatization is implemented…hopefully, i’m wrong.

  • I agree, Bruce. Our entire nation has lost the drive to take risks. I sometimes think that we reached our zenith with the Apollo program and we’ve been sliding toward mediocrity since that amazing time. There are too many ‘do-gooders’ who have the power to decide what we can and can’t do with our lives. Heck, I can’t even buy my favorite breakfast cereal anymore because somebody somewhere thinks it might be bad for my health.

    You keep right on taking care of that Commander for as long as you can!

  • Sad to see that people let the government push them around like we work for them, that is the tail wagging the dog, and exactly why they can do it . The tfr is useless except for giving the fighter pilots training, and letting the whole world know where the President is, which in itself is ridiculous. The government is subject to our will not theirs, they are not our parents like some of them think they are. Want to see them bend just look at the NRA and they are not that large an organization. The AOPA should be fighting TFR’s tooth and nail, but they are too self indulgent. Take them to court, the president was stopped with one judge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *