Last week, I attended a briefing at the local town hall where airport officials briefed a new arrival at the airport, a skydiving operation. As I figured it would, that ignited a minor freakout among the local pilot community, but they listened politely and asked good questions of the operator, who intends to start selling tandems later this month or early next.
At one point, someone asked how transient pilots running along the beach on the way to Key West will know they’re flying through an active drop zone. “Well,” said the airport representative, “there will be a NOTAM on it.” This elicited a dark laugh from several attendees and this take-it-to-bank constant truth: Nobody reads NOTAMs.
I beg to differ. I always read NOTAMs because I don’t want to be the derp who shows up at an airport to find the runway closed or that I’ve just barged into a TFR. I find that kind of thing simply indefensible. But pilots do it all the time. And truthfully, it’s hard to blame them much because despite the FAA’s tweaking of the NOTAMs system, it’s easier to grasp the tax code than it is some of these NOTAMs, so it’s no wonder pilots blow them off.
Early Saturday I was headed out to fly the Cub and as I always do, I checked NOTAMs, had a look at the METARs and TAF and clicked on the graphical TFR page expecting to see nothing in Florida other than that maddening permanent TFR over Disney’s Magic Kingdom. But whoa, what’s this? A TFR over Venice? Not quite, but it was close enough to send me into the weeds to find out exactly what the TFR was about.
Here’s an excerpt of the text:
…MANAGEMENT OF ACFT OPS IN THE VICINITY OF AERIAL DEMONSTRATIONS AND MAJOR SPORTING EVENTS, ACFT OPS ARE PROHIBITED WI AN AREA DEFINED AS 5NM RADIUS OF265510N0815934W (RSW335026.1)SFC-13000FT UNLESS AUTHORIZED BY ATC EFFECTIVE
1610211600 UTC UNTIL 1610212000 UTC,
1610212100 UTC UNTIL 1610220130 UTC,
1610221600 UTC UNTIL 1610222100 UTC,
AND 1610231600 UTC UNTIL 1610232100 UTC.
Try to make sense of that at 6:30 a.m. before your first latte has kicked in. It took a few minutes of probing to figure out exactly where it was. The FAA actually has a pretty good graphical site for this that plots the TFR on a sectional and gives the active period in plain language. But you have to work to find it. If the notice was up Saturday morning, I couldn’t find the details. By Saturday evening, it was up.
I’m sure there’s some spec somewhere that explains why they describe this thing with lat/long or a radial/distance when in fact the stupid thing is centered on the Charlotte County Airport. Why not just say that? Too simple, I guess. Participating in aviation requires learning certain things, to be sure, including the arcane language of coded weather reports and diktats from the FAA. We’re long past due to revise the thinking that requires pilots to learn and retain these silly codes. Yeah, I know; they’re the stuff of international treaties. To be fair, websites like CSC DUATS do offer a plain language tab and that’s good. They just need to be a little easier to find. And when the revolution gets here, I'm going to personally remove that pull-down tab that offers a sort option to include "VIP TFRs."
I am absolutely sure that when the snowbirds start arriving next month, I will hear this on the CTAF: “Hey, there’s skydiving here? When did that happen? Why don’t they announce this stuff?” The sad thing is that pilots who express such surprise probably won’t learn from it. Once a blunderer, always a blunderer. And I say that as a recovering blunderer.