It’s understandable that there will be some impact on regular GA operations at and around airports a sitting president flies into. Presidential TFRs follow our nation’s Commander-in-Chief around the country and it really doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why that’s a good idea. But how much security is enough, and when should GA draw the line between sacrificing for security and asking for some relief from these pop-up no-fly zones? And why is this suddenly a bigger deal than ever?
A lot of the recent conflict has to do with the locations of the current President’s homes and how often he visits them. Manhattan and Mar-a-Lago are densely populated both on the ground and in the air. Both are popular tourist and sight-seeing destinations. Any disruption at either location is a big one, logistically and financially.
Before the FAA modified it, the Manhattan TFR blocked the major VFR corridor through New York City. Even when the TFR was initially reduced, it restricted the corridor so tightly that there was a lot of concern about midairs. The current iteration, as long as the President is not in residence, has returned the corridor to its original width.
The bigger stumbling block: Mar-a-Lago is located right next to several busy airports. This won’t affect business travel as much, but Palm Beach County Park Airport (Lantana) Airport is less than six miles away, making it well within the 10nm inner ring where general aviation flight is prohibited. With 120,000 operations annually, Lantana is one of the busiest general aviation airports in the country. Shutting it down, even for a weekend, costs. Estimates suggest that FBOs lost $30,000 as a result of President Trump’s recent three-day visit. Maintenance firm Palm Beach Aircraft Services says it could lose at least $2 million a year in gross revenue.
Several options are on the table for how to deal with this. AOPA is suggesting modifying the TFR to exclude Lantana from the inner no-fly zone, instead making it part of the outer ring. This would allow operations to the airport as long as the pilot is on an active flight plan, squawks a discrete transponder code, and maintains two-way communications with air traffic control. Others have suggested that the President refrain from visiting quite as often – he was in Mar-a-Lago for three consecutive weekends in January/February.
The White House has yet to respond to requests for comment, but it is often understandably tight-lipped about the details of its security operations. That said, the prospect of four years of regular restricted access to these busy GA airports is more than many pilots and business owners think is fair to ask.
Learn more at AOPA.