When Following the TFR to the Letter Isn't Enough
As I write this, it's the first of April -- April Fool's Day -- and I spent the morning boring holes in the sky around Portland, Maine to shoot some video for upcoming YouTube spots. We were sure to get a real briefing for this flight because our President is due in this afternoon. There were no changes to the 14:30 TFR and no special NOTAMs for Portland. We launched with confidence.
No, we didn't run into any Blackhawks. But I was chatting with a lineman after landing and was told the ramp at Portland was closing at 13:55. Excuse me? What if someone lands at 14:00, a full half-hour before TFR goes into effect?
"Uh, I think the Tower is going to turn them away."
That didn't sound right to me, so I did some asking around, including a call to the TRACON (Portland Approach), which sits right below the Tower cab. The ramp was scheduled to close before 14:00 with no movements allowed except for scheduled air carriers. Would the Tower turn away arrivals?
"No, as far as air traffic is concerned, the TFR starts at 14:30."
"But you can't issue them a clearance to taxi to the ramp?"
"Uh, I don't know. That's a ramp issue. Maybe we'd park them across the road."
The "across the road" reference is our FedEx and maintenance ramp on the west side of Runway 18. There's no access to get back around to the GA area of the airport except a long walk.
Picture this scenario: You're based at Portland and were away on a trip when this TFR was announced a few days ago. You change your plans to get back as soon as you can, but it's going to be close so you check the start time of that TFR on the way. You find out it's still 14:30. So you skip a fuel stop and land with acceptable reserves at 13:57, feeling great that you beat the deadline. You call Ground for taxi and are told that… you can't. You can't park. You can't get fuel. You can't even taxi the to the only FBO and get out of your plane. And, by the time you figure this out and sit dumbfounded for a moment, you can't leave because the TFR will activate before you can clear the airspace (not to mention the tight fuel).
Per the TFR and all NOTAMs the airport is open, but -- April Fool -- it's actually the runways that are open. The rest of the airport is closed.
Is it really too much to ask that these logistics are run past someone who might bother to think them through? We're now all trained to search for the NOTAM that says, "Jump" so we can shout, "How high?" But do us the favor of actually issuing a NOTAM with little details like whether or not the airplane can park.
The lineman said there was a Lear scheduled to come in at 14:00 that hadn't canceled yet. I cheeked Flight Aware when I got to my office an hour later and didn't see a Lear in the list.
Maybe he got lucky and someone let him in on the joke.