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How You Could Fly Through A TFR Without Even Knowing It

Boldmethod

We're in the middle of the warmest, most sunny weather you'll find all year. But there are hazards popping up everywhere in the US: wildfire TFRs. And if you're not careful, you could unknowingly fly right through one, and have problems with the FAA because of it.

There are lots of wildfires happening across the US right now. In fact, as of August 2nd, there were 43 large fire incidents across the US.


When firefighting crews need aerial fire assistance, the FAA issues a TFRs (Temporary Flight Restriction) for the area surrounding the fire. Why? Because they need to accomplish two major tasks:

  1. 1) Give airborne firefighting crews plenty of room to do their job, and
  2. 2) Keep you a safe distance from firefighting aircraft

bryangalli

How Do You Know Where The TFRs Are?

So how do you know where the TFRs are? It's actually not that hard to find out. Here are two great ways of checking the TFRs for your next flight:

One of the easiest ways is to use Foreflight. Let's say you wanted to fly from from Denver Centennial airport to Jackson, Wyoming.

To check for potential TFRs along your route, first, enter your flight plan.

Then, add TFR overlays to your map.

As you can see, if you took this flight without checking TFRs, you'd have the potential of flying right through a TFR and getting yourself a warning letter or violation. If you're like us, that's something you're not interested in doing.

So how can you avoid the TFR area on this route? In ForeFlight, simply put your finger on the route, and start dragging it north or south of the TFR. When you release your finger from the screen, ForeFlight will pop up several suggested fixes that you could add to your flight plan. Pick one, file the route, and you'll be TFR free.

In this case, we picked Steamboat Springs (KSBS) as an intermediate waypoint. It steers us well clear of the TFR, and it only adds 4 miles to the route. For most aircraft, that's less than 2 minutes of flight time.

What If You Don't Use ForeFlight?

So what happens if you're not a ForeFlight user? You can still get these TFRs in a graphical format, courtesy of the FAA's website: http://tfr.faa.gov/

The site draws TFRs on the map, and also lists the details of the TFR on the bottom page. While you can't overlay your route of flight on the TFRs, it does tell you the exact location of the TFRs, so you can plot them along your route of flight using a paper chart, or any other nav planning tool you're using.

How Big Are The TFRs?

So how big are these TFRs? The answer is: it really depends. The FAA shapes TFRs around the perimeter of the fire, so in general, the bigger the fire, the bigger the TFR.

In this example, the Santa Margarita fire in California has a 5NM radius, and extends from the surface to 5,000' MSL.

How Long Do They Last?

How long do these wildfire TFRs last? Usually, a long time. Since nobody really knows how long it will take to put a wildfire out, the FAA typically issues TFRs for at least 60 days. But they can be even longer. Looking again at the Santa Margarita fire, the TFR was issued August 2nd. It's expiration? October 2nd, 2017. That's 2 months.

When the wildfire is out, the FAA usually removes the TFR within a few days. But that's not always the case. Remember, just because you don't see a fire or smoke, doesn't mean the TFR is gone.

What Happens When You're Already In Flight?

So what happens if you're already in flight? Typically you'll know what's ahead of you when it comes to TFRs from your pre-flight brief. But if you have to divert or amend your flight, you could be venturing into unknown territory.

If you have ADS-B In on board your aircraft, you have some great information at your fingertips. Advisory information is broadcast and updated across ADS-B roughly every 15 minutes, and that includes TFRs.

So if you have to amend your flight plan or divert, check out your ADS-B TFRs at the same time. It will let you know if anything has popped up along your route since you got your pre-flight briefing.

But what if you don't have ADS-B on board? This is where ATC or flight service comes in handy. If you're getting flight following and you need to divert, let Center (or whoever you're talking to) know where you're diverting. Then, if they're not overloaded on the radios, ask them if there are any TFRs along your new route of flight.

And if they're too busy? Ask Flight Service. They can let you know of any potential TFRs along your new route, and if there are any, they can help you with a new route that will avoid the TFR and keep you in clear airspace.

Stay Out Of TFRs, And Away From Problems With The FAA

During fire season, wildfire TFRs can pop up almost anywhere, with very little notice. Use your preflight tools on the ground to make sure you're not venturing into one. And if you need to divert or change your flight plan in the air, make sure you're checking your ADS-B or talking to ATC to make sure the route ahead of you is clear.

With some planning on the ground and in the air, you can easily keep yourself out of TFRs, and keep everyone, including ATC and the FAA, happy.

Want to learn more about TFRs? Check out our VFR Charts and Publications course, and learn how to read TFRs like a pro.

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at colin@boldmethod.com.

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