Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 6, 2014

TFRs And The Little Guy

I’m not sure of their purpose, and “they” aren’t aware of the effects

My student was from England. The first hop of the day was normal: from calling ATIS to flying the flight, nothing unusual. The second hop, just after noon, however, was definitely not normal: Hidden in the NOTAM language of the ATIS was the usual verbiage that I only half listen to. Obviously a mistake. This time, it was something about, "Closed to VFR…yada yada…1730 hours local...yada yada…until mumble mumble hours…Sunday yada yada." Hmmm! I assumed they were doing some runway resurfacing or something at night. Boy, was I ever wrong!

I started to taxi when I remembered part of what the ATIS said. It said the shutdown started that evening, and the end date was three days away! Wait a minute! I replayed the ATIS. Whoa! It said the airport would be closed to VFR traffic from 5:30 that afternoon and wouldn't open until 11 a.m., three days away. Zowie! Turns out that the vice president was attending a fund-raiser not far away, and there would be no VFR flying until he left. Like it or not, we were officially stuck in TFR hell.

The NOTAM caught me totally by surprise and the ground control guys, too. None of us knew it was coming. I scurried around on the phone trying to locate hangar space on another airport, so my student wouldn't waste two-and-a-half days, but there just wasn't enough time to make it happen. So, we sat around on our hands, him having spent a lot of money to get here from England, me losing money every minute we were on the ground. More important, his time window to learn the intricacies of flying my little airplane so he could fly his own when he got home, was rapidly closing, and he was going to have to leave. This was just not right, and it got me thinking about the TFR thing in general.

First, to be perfectly honest, other than being grounded twice by TFRs (the other one gave us warning) and having to work around them for desert fires, I know nothing about them other than their effect on local flight operations. I'm assuming they exist to create a protective dome over events, activities and persons of interest. In theory, this is a logical thought, but it has some unintended consequences. Let's look at this specific TFR.

It was centered on the vice president, who happened to be staying just a couple of miles from KSDL, so the TFR area overlapped us. I'm assuming the purpose of TFRs, in general, is to eliminate the little airplane threat, although I'm not certain what that threat may be. However, this TFR didn't touch a much busier airport that was only a couple miles farther away. Were they afraid that a C-152 loaded with cherry bombs was going to take off from our airport because we were closest, but not the other field?

Also, why ground VFR traffic only? Does that mean that suicidal bad guys don't know how to file an IFR flight plan? I'm pretty sure that's not the case. Plus, if I were willing to fudge a few facts, I could file a fraudulent IFR flight plan even for my little biplane and take off with the big guys. Of course, when off the ground, I don't know what I'd do. And I'm not sure what kind of threat I'd represent.


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