Lately, TFRs have frequently made news headlines due to a surge in POTUS travel, but what do they mean for your flight plans?
A TFR within your regular flying area can be anything from a minor nuisance to a nerve wracking thing. If that TFR is following the President of the United States, it’ll be subject to even more federal scrutiny than normal. This is especially pertinent of late as heavily populated airspace have been set aside for multiple weekends in a row for presidential travel. For private pilots, such TFRs can cause anxiety and a no-go decision to avoid disrupting airspace boundaries. But with passengers and planned flights, you’ll need to know how to navigate and plan for a TFR. Don’t worry--it’s not as daunting as it seems.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, provides a helpful infographic that boils down TFRs into a fairly simple map, complete with tips, procedures, and “DO NOTs” that will help you avoid trouble. Their three keys to success (Plan-Talk-Squawk) are simple enough to remember and help break down the process for flight preparation and conduct around a TFR.
A well-researched and thought-out flight plan always helps avoid a myriad of ills. First, determine the exact location of both the inner and outer rings of the TFR by visiting the FAA’s official TFR page, and review the weather and NOTAMs along your route to ensure that other flight restrictions or meteorological limitations won’t force you to take an undesirable path. Now is the time to plan the exact route you want to take either out of or into the TFR. Remember that the inner ring of the TFR is absolutely off-limits, while the outer ring is navigable with careful communication and planning.
Communication is key at all points in and around a TFR. With an active VFR or IFR flight plan, you can fly into or out of the outer TFR ring--VFR aircraft with no active flight plan must remain outside. Monitor the guard frequency 121.5 on a back-up radio if possible, and keep an ear on FSS for any updates on TFR status. Ensure you call up ATC well before entering the TFR and ensure you have all the clearances you need to continue to your destination. Whether landing, taking off, or passing through, this talk procedure will remain the same.
Each TFR will have a discrete code for you to squawk while inside, and you’ll need to keep squawking it as you talk to ATC. Under no circumstances should you squawk 1200 while inside the TFR, nor should you attempt to cancel a flight plan while airborne in a TFR.
As daunting as TFRs may seem, they really are as simple as carefully planning a flight to avoid the inner ring, filing a plan, talking to ATC, and squawking a discrete code. If something goes amiss and you are intercepted, be sure to acknowledge the fighter, remain predictable, and keep in touch with ATC. Follow all instructions you are given and ensure you remember to review your day and night intercept signals. The goal of the intercept aircraft is safety for everyone involved, and complying with instructions is the best way to achieve that. Still, remaining in communication and filing and sticking to an appropriate flight plan is the best way to avoid an intercept in the first place.