(February 2011) — Joe Biden came to visit last Memorial Day weekend. I wish he had called first so I could have invited him for an airplane ride.
Sunday morning, May 30, was beautiful on eastern Long Island. You could almost see Ireland, and it was as calm as a lobster on lithium. On days like this pilots take to the air like hawks at mealtime. I did a quick weather check on the computer then drove to East Hampton airport, where my Husky lives. The plan was to fly along the beach around Southampton to check on erosion from the heavy spring storms, but mainly I was simply eager to roam the sky on such a day. Biden would have enjoyed it too, because I would be flying right near where he was staying, as it turned out.
The beach was recovering nicely. Sand was gradually building back where it had been washed away. In due time, I landed and taxied to my hangar. How strange that the FBO golf cart pulled up before I had even climbed out of the airplane. The lineman handed me a Post-it note with a telephone number written down after the word Tracon (Terminal Radar Approach Control).
"They want you to call. Said you flew into a TFR."
"Apparently there's one around Southampton."
The first word that came to mind is not publishable within the pages of this venerable magazine. A pleasant-sounding fellow answered my call to Tracon. After verifying who I was, my N-number and contact information, he told me I had violated the TFR over Southampton that had been posted on Friday. He asked if I was aware of it.
"No," I said, "but that must have been me."
Later, I learned that I was one of 11 pilots who were not aware of Biden's visit.
"Someone at the Farmingdale FSDO [Flight Standards District Office] will be contacting you in a few days," he replied.
Sure enough, they did. Paul Gretschel, an inspector at the FSDO, requested a written statement of what happened and asked if I would come to the Farmingdale office for an interview. I said this was one of the most embarrassing incidents to happen in my flying career, and of course I would do as he requested.
In my written statement and during my interview with Gretschel and inspector David Williams, I was completely forthcoming.
I said that I had seen earlier e-mail notifications of a TFR around New York Harbor for the holiday weekend, but somehow missed the one issued that Friday regarding Southampton even though I subscribe to the FAASTeam notices. Later, I found that I had deleted it thinking it was one I had already seen. Furthermore, I told them, although I checked weather, I did not look for TFRs that morning. I don't recall there ever being one on eastern Long Island. On cross-country trips I always check for TFRs, but not for local flights. Also, I left my Garmin 696 with XM Weather at home. It would have shown the TFR. So there were three opportunities to learn of the TFR. This was bad enough, but the defining act of stupidity was that my Class III medical had just expired. I usually have it timed with the biennial flight review to more easily remember, but I had taken extra training in the past year, which counted as a BFR, so the timing was off. (I do have annual physical and eye examinations that are far more stringent than the Class III physical.) Could it be worse? I guess I could have taxied into the FBO golf cart, but if you are shaking your head right now, you're absolutely correct.
While I could tell them how the TFR incursion happened, I could in no way excuse it, I told Gretschel and Williams, and what really bothered me about this, aside from the embarrassment, was that the incursion resulted from a chain of omissions similar in a way to the chain of events preceding virtually all aircraft accidents. This was thought-provoking. The whole event was totally my fault.
The inspectors, both general aviation pilots before joining the FAA, were professional, courteous and understanding. They would make their report, they said, and send it on to the FAA Eastern Regional Counsel at JFK for disposition, adding that there would be a mandatory certificate suspension but that I could still fly during the suspension providing I was with a pilot qualified to act as pilot in command in my aircraft.
Patrick Bradley is a friend who used to write for Flying years ago before becoming an aviation lawyer. Couldn't hurt to check in with him.