Father's Day TFR
To avoid those ubiquitous Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs), it should be sufficient to get a briefing from Flight Service and ask for all the pertinent TFRs for your route. How wrong you would be ...
The plan was a pretty simple one: We would fly up to Loar Field (83G) in southern Michigan, where my son would pick us up and we would go golfing for Father's Day. Candidly, I enjoy the flying part a lot more than the golfing part. The real pleasure, of course, would be spending time with my son. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Loar Field, it is a grass strip just south of Brooklyn, Mich., with about 2,600 feet of runway. The owners of the property are very friendly but there are no services on the field.
It was my son who first mentioned it ... the fact that Michigan International Speedway (MIS) was having a race that weekend. You see, Loar Field is less than two miles from MIS. I had heard something about the race, but for the most part I was not worried because I have technology backing me up. On any trip outside my home base area, I use both AOPA's Flight Planner and Control Vision's AnyWhere Map to keep me clear of TFRs. AOPA's Flight Planner downloads current TFRs when you first log in. TFRs then show up on a printable map. AnyWhere Map allows you to download TFRs just before your flight and they update their database every hour. After being downloaded onto my IPAQ, the TFRs show up on my moving map in the airplane.
Check and Double-Check
The night before the flight, I planned the flight using AOPAs Flight Planner. There was nothing on the map indicating a TFR, and other than NOTAM 3/1862, there was nothing specifically saying to stay away from MIS.
When calling Flight Service, there is always a recorded message telling me to advise the specialist whether "I have and understand Security Information Eight." I have always said this, primarily because I know they will not give me a briefing until I say the magic words. Security Information Eight basically refers to NOTAMs 3/1862 and 4/0811. What I understand is to stay far away -- far far away -- from nuclear power plants and sporting events. This time I thought it would be a good idea to admit to the FSS that I was not really sure what my responsibilities were under NOTAMs 3/1862 and 4/0811. I was given a useful shorthand solution: Don't loiter over nuclear power plants and don't go near major sporting events. "What about Michigan International Speedway?" I asked. The specialist could find nothing specifically mentioning the race. He suggested that if I file IFR to Loar Field, I would then be in compliance, since I would be in contact with ATC. That became the plan.
The next morning was clear and visibility was unlimited. I filed IFR: VWV direct CRUXX, landing 83G. I reran the flight plan with AOPA and loaded the current TFRs into my IPAQ from AnyWhere Map. Still no TFRs indicated along my route. I began to think that I was being overly cautious ... either that or perhaps MIS seated less than 30,000 spectators.
After loading the golf clubs into the van, we drove out to the airport. Regrettably there was a problem with the airplane, so we ended up driving the trip. We had a great time up at Devil's Lake and watched the races at MIS on the Fox News Network. They had a crowd of 130,000 spectators and we got to see the F-16s fly over. By this I mean we actually saw the F-16s -- not on TV -- because they flew over Devil's Lake after they had flown over MIS.
I couldn't understand why the TFR had not shown up on either of my computer systems. I couldn't understand why no one mentioned an F-16 fly over. I couldn't get the idea out of my mind that I was missing something.
On the next Monday I called up my "Informed Source" within the FAA. There is nothing special about his position; he is just embarrassed that I have his phone number and prefers to be called an "informed source." I told him my story and he started looking up the expired and current NOTAMS on the FAAs Web site to check out my story. For a moment he thought he had found a TFR but it was the one for Kellogg Field, more than 40 miles away. No TFR for MIS was shown.
A review of NOTAM 3/1862 and what I knew about MIS clearly placed the races within the definition of the NOTAM: There was seating for more than 30,000 spectators, and it was a speedway event. As a result, airspace within three miles of MIS was closed from the surface to 3,000 AGL. The TFR existed from one hour before to one hour after the event. So why didn't it show up on my computer systems?
I am ashamed to tell you, but I misunderstood Security Information Eight and the systems I had been relying on. NOTAMs 3/1862 and 4/0811 are blanket NOTAMs. They do not create or trigger a new NOTAM every time a covered sporting event occurs. It is the pilot in command's responsibility to be aware of these events. The AOPA Flight Planner software and AnyWhere Map rely on the FAA NOTAM system to learn of and display TFRs. They do a great job with Presidential TFRs and other events that have had a specific NOTAM associated with the event, but do nothing to help with major sporting events.
There is no automated system at this time that will identify all TFRs associated with these blanket NOTAMs. Even the FAAs site does not necessarily show TFR's occurring as a result of NOTAM 3/1862. Other than becoming a sport junkie, you have two safe options: One is to always file IFR, and the second is to always stay above 3,000 feet AGL. Another possible option is to read the sport page for the area you are flying into. I would also suggest staying in contact with the Center or Approach Control for the area that you are flying through. This is always a good idea to help spot traffic, but who better would know about local TFRs?
Garbage In, Garbage Out
The big thing I learned is that my reliance on technology was misplaced. I have to be clever to identify potential sporting events that may trigger a TFR. The burden is on me; I can't rely on anyone else.
I spoke to an AOPA representative about the problem. As I expected, their system is designed to post new, separate NOTAMS as they come out. They are aware of the problem created by 3/1862 and are currently creating a list of all latitudes and longitudes of the NFL and MLB stadiums to add to their Web site. If you go to AOPA's Web site and go into the "NOTAMs -TFRs and FAQs" section, you will not only find a list of arenas stadiums and speedways but you can also click on the stadium and get the team's schedule.
AnyWhere Map has a file available that shows all stadiums and nuclear power plants on their moving map display. These show as active all the time, but are useful as a reminder that I am approaching a dangerous area. This file, however, does not include raceways and speedways. This is why the TFR did not show up on my moving map.
There was another thing I learned. As I mentioned at the beginning, when I call the FSS, I am instructed to tell the specialist that I have and understand Security Information Eight. I always thought that was odd language. Now it makes sense. For 30+ years I have been relying on the FSS to advise me of NOTAMs and airspace restrictions. It is obviously too much of a job for the FSS to keep track of every major game, much less rain delays, rescheduled double headers and speedway events. The verbiage "I have and understand Security Information Eight" shifts the burden of compliance to me. If I violate a sporting-event TFR, I will not be able to use as a defense, "But I called the FSS and they didn't tell me!" This is a statement to help the FAA prove violations, not to insure compliance.
As it turned out it was a great Father's Day. I got to spend time with my son, play some golf and learn what Information Security Eight was all about. Oh yeah, by the way, I shot a 54 -- for me, good enough for nine holes.
More articles to help you become a better pilot are available in AVweb's Airmanship section.