Last week, three small airplanes were intercepted by F-16s in the Los Angeles area as a result of busting temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) during President Obama’s visit to the area. These types of incidents remind me of why it’s so important to get the latest information available for each flight. I always call flight service for a preflight briefing in addition to getting a briefing online.
While TFR information is available online, the information is in many cases found separate from other information you should collect as part of your preflight briefing, such as weather and notams. It is unlikely that there will be any TFRs in the area, so after clicking on the TFR link 253 times with no TFRs reported, chances are that you’re occasionally tempted to omit this very important step. With a telephone briefing, this won’t happen since the briefer will tell you about any TFRs in the area.
There could also be pop up TFRs as a result of a forest fire or other unscheduled incident. These types of TFRs may not have been in the system when you received the briefing a home. In order to make sure that I stay out of TFR trouble, I give flight service a quick call within 15 minutes of cranking up the engine. It doesn’t mean I need to sit through a full briefing. I simply ask for an abbreviated briefing. The representative will only need a few details about the flight before he or she gives me the requested information and the duration of the call is just a few minutes. That’s time well worth spending to make sure that there won’t be any F-16s forming up on my wingtips.
But there are even easier ways to get updated TFR information. Some aviation apps, such as ForeFlight, allows for TFRs to be overlaid on VFR and IFR charts on the iPad. So as long as you have an internet connection, whether it’s wireless, 3G, 4G or perhaps you’re connected through the new portable Stratus box, you can have live TFR information displayed at all times. You just have to make sure that you have TFRs selected. An XM satellite weather link, whether it's linked to panel mounted avionics, such as the Garmin G1000, or a portable GPS unit, will also continously display updated TFR information.
Another way to avoid TFR trouble all together is by filing an IFR flight plan. The controllers will be in charge of your routing and you won't have to worry about flying into airspace you're not supposed to be in. With so many ways to avoid TFRs, there is no good reason to bust one.
The political campaigning that will happen between now and the presidential election this fall will most likely mean an increase in the number of TFRs in many parts of the country. And they will cost us taxpayers a lot of money. Let’s save some of it by being smart. Just think about the extra cost a TFR infraction incurs. First you have the cost of deploying one or several military jets. Then there’s the cost of possible litigation against the pilot that the government has to pay for. I have no clue what the cost would be, but it’s most likely staggering and certainly unnecessary.
So if you don't mind paying more taxes or risking your pilot privileges, keep flying without a proper briefing. Otherwise, make sure that you have all the current information before you start your engine(s). It will not only save us all some cash, but it will keep your pilot certificate safe as well.