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.
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.