VFR in a TFR

In some cases you can fly where you may think you can't.



Generally I steer way clear of temporary flight restrictions, which means that I'm grounded any time the president is in town. And generally when the president is in town, I am aware of it days in advance. But recently, when President Obama was visiting the Los Angeles area, I had no idea until I was on my way to the airport and got on the phone with Lockheed Martin Flight Service.

This is a phone call I make out of habit to ensure that there are no last minute TFRs or notams that will affect my flight and that the weather observations have not changed significantly from my initial check. At least nine out of 10 times there are no TFRs along my route of flight. If there is one it is usually for a fire, which is easy to avoid.

But this time the entire Los Angeles basin appeared to be shrouded in a massive restricted layer. And it just so happened that I wanted to take off from Van Nuys Airport (VNY) and fly south right over Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), near the center of the active TFR.

At the time of my planned flight, there were two layers of TFRs. The inner ring had a 10 nm radius and prevented any flights other than commercial flights and life-critical flights. The Santa Monica Airport (SMO), for example, was completely shut down. There was a slight cutout in the inner circle to allow for operations out of VNY. Were it not for that cutout, I would have been grounded. The tower was directing pilots to take off from Runway 34R and L and land on 16R and L, making for an interesting day for the controllers.

The second layer extended from the outer border of the inner ring to a 30 nm radius from the center of the TFR. I was under the impression that I would have to fly IFR in order to go flying that day. But with the runway procedures taking off and landing in opposite directions, I knew that I would likely suffer significant delays. Instead, I decided to file a VFR flight plan and go on my merry way.

As soon as I was done with my runup, I was cleared for takeoff. While I had to divert around the inner circle, I was able to get to my destination. On my way back I was directed straight onto the left base for 16L and cleared to land. As I approached the airport I heard some frustrated pilots on the frequency that had been waiting on the ground for more than an hour.

So if you didn't think you could fly VFR in a TFR, now you know that in some cases you can. The only requirements for me were that I had to file, open and close a VFR flight plan, get a squawk code before takeoff and remain in contact with ATC during the course of my flight. These may not be the same requirements that are imposed on TFRs established for your area, so read the regulations carefully before you venture into this special airspace. And make sure to stay out of the areas that prohibit such flights or you may get surprised by an F-16 off your wing.

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