My next step should have been to immediately hire a lawyer through whom all further contact with the FAA would be conducted. I say this with reluctance, because inspectors Gretschel and Williams are fine people dedicated to aviation safety. If my case could have been resolved within the FSDO, I believe any action taken would have been fair. Unfortunately, however, they were just a step in the process. Their hands, as well as those of the FAA attorney, were tied.
After finding a lawyer, I should have filed a NASA ASRS (Aviation Safety Reporting System) report within 10 days of the infraction (asrs.arc.nasa.gov). For most offenses, this will waive a suspension.
After following these steps you just do the dance. You are part of a process, a speck in the system, like when being admitted to a hospital. All my "should haves" were learned too late to help me, but I hope they might help you.
Finally, I wonder: Does grounding me make the vice president safer? In fact, does publishing the coordinates of where he is going to be, and putting a three-nautical-mile, 3,000-foot-high cylinder around him offer any protection at all from an aerial attack? Is such an attack from a GA aircraft even a remote threat compared with that posed by, say, an unknown van driving by? Curiously, when I fed the notam coordinates into Google Maps, the location depicted was not where Biden was staying. Everyone in the neighborhood assumed where he was staying from the fleet of Secret Service vehicles blocking the driveway. The coordinates fell on a neighbor's lawn a few houses away. Was this an error with Google Maps, or was the offset deliberate so that a GPS-guided weapon would strike the neighbor rather than the vice president? If so, did the Secret Service inform the neighbor? We'll never know. In the Land of the Free, fighting terrorism is a tough job. May common sense prevail, and may we remain free to fly, the ultimate expression of freedom. Just be sure to check for those TFRs first.
Avoiding TRR Trouble
The best strategy for avoiding this trap can be captured in three simple steps. First, know your route of flight well. Many TFRs have been in place since 9/11, and it's not a far stretch to think that some places, such as nuclear power plants and military bases, might be sensitive. Second, always get a good preflight briefing. If going IFR, you should be routed around or legally through TFRs, but VFR will leave the responsibility up to you. Great sources include DUATS or FAA online, both of which have graphical depictions of active TFRs. Many handheld navigators have constantly updated graphical TFRs included in their satellite weather bundle. You can also call 800-WX-BRIEF and speak to a briefer. This is the best way to get the most up-to-date information. Finally, you should always monitor the radio and flight-follow when practical. Some TFRs pop up on very short notice. A quick check with FSS once airborne can confirm a previous briefing, and monitoring Guard (121.5) will guarantee you hear any urgent ATC attempts to contact you. Avoiding a TFR isn't difficult with a little prior thought, and the repercussions of finding yourself inside one far outweigh the trouble it takes to make sure you steer clear. —Lt. Derek Ham
Lt. Derek Ham is a U.S. Coast Guard pilot stationed at Air Station Atlantic City, New Jersey. He has an ATP rating with 2,800 hours of helicopter and fixed wing experience.