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You Could Be Intercepted For Flying Through These Unpublished TFRs

You didn't check the sports section? On any given day, Flight Service isn't required to warn you about dozens of sporting event flight restrictions. If you mistakenly fly into one, you could be subject to criminal penalties.

It's A "Blanket NOTAM"

After 9/11, the FAA began issuing FDC NOTAMs which created TFRs over major sporting events to mitigate the risk of aerial terrorism. With so many sports events and constantly changing game schedules, the FAA decided to issue a "Blanket NOTAM" that creates temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) over some of the nation's largest sporting events. Most pilots call these "Stadium TFRs" or "Sporting TFRs." It's up to you as the pilot in command to understand this NOTAM and avoid flight over these events.

Boldmethod

FDC NOTAM 7/4319 was re-issued with a few amendments on July 20th, 2017. For each sporting event covered by the NOTAM, the airspace is temporarily defined as "National Defense Airspace." Each TFR has a radius of 3 nautical miles and extends up to, and includes, 3,000 feet AGL. Qualifying locations and events are defined as any stadium or other sporting venue having a seating capacity of 30,000 of more people, where:

  • A regular or post season Major League Baseball, National Football, or NCAA Division One football game is occurring.
  • A Nascar Cup, Indy Car, or Champ Series race is occurring, excluding qualifying and pre-race events.
ranieldiaz

According to the NOTAM, "this flight prohibition is in effect one hour before the scheduled start until one hour after the end of a qualifying event." The NOTAM goes on to state that pilots who violate the procedures associated with the airspace may be "intercepted, detained, and interviewed by law enforcement/security personnel".

What If The Game Is Delayed Or Goes Into Overtime?

As the PIC, you're legally responsible to know if the game has gone into overtime or was delayed. The TFR is active from one hour before the scheduled start until one hour after the end of the event. No specific end-time is published for many events due to numerous delays and overtime situations.

Corey Komarec

Flight Service Won't Warn You

It may be startling to know that Flight Service won't warn you about any of these events when you call for a weather briefing. Most pilots rely upon weather briefings to get official TFR information along their route. When we called Flight Service for details, their best advice was to sift through event listings in local news or on ESPN. Technically, you must determine on an event-by-event basis if the game and stadium fit into the qualifications for a TFR.

Simply put, neither the FAA nor Flight Service manages a list of hundreds of constantly changing game schedules. You have the responsibility for determining if sporting TFRs will exist along your specific route.

Swayne Martin

Who Can And Can't Fly Through

The flight prohibition applies to "all aircraft operations," which includes: training, parachute jumping, and unmanned aircraft systems, including model aircraft flights. Exception exist, of course. You must meet at least one of the following requirements to fly through these TFRs:

  • The aircraft operation has been authorized by ATC for operational or safety purposes, including the authorization of flights specifically arriving at or departing from an airport designated by ATC using standard ATC procedures and routes.
  • The aircraft operation is being conducted for operational, safety, or security purposes supporting the qualifying event, and is authorized by an airspace security waiver approved by the FAA.
  • The aircraft operation is enabling broadcast coverage for the broadcast rights holder for the qualifying event, and is authorized by an airspace security waiver approved by the FAA.
  • The aircraft operation has been authorized by ATC for national security, homeland security, law enforcement, or air ambulance purposes.

Pilots must continuously SQUAWK an ATC-assigned beacon code and maintain 2-way radio contact with ATC while operating in the defined airspace.

Telstart Logistics

ForeFlight Is A Great Resource

ForeFlight provides TFR alerts over many of these events for users. The restrictions are usually charted on the map ahead of time with a yellow shaded area that turns red around the time the TFR is active. Again, final responsibility still rests with the PIC for determining when these "stadium TFRs" are active, but ForeFlight is doing a great job plotting them in advance.

However, you still need to be careful. A few months ago, we saw a stadium TFR pop up in the wrong place. The TFR was meant for the War Memorial Stadium at the University of Arkansas, but popped up around the War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, WY, which is home to the University of Wyoming Cowboys. Small errors like this are a reason you should always double check your sources.

ForeFlight

What You Can Do

If it's too complicated for the FAA to figure out, how are you supposed to handle it?

There is some good news. In most cases, if you're in two-way radio communication with ATC and on a squawk code, such as VFR flight following or an IFR flight plan, you're OK. That doesn't mean you should seek out TFRs - obviously you want to avoid them whenever you can.

If you're planning to cross through a major metropolitan area, check where large stadiums are located in relation to your route (they may or may not be charted on a VFR sectional). Take a look at event listings for nearby stadiums, and determine if the game fits into the qualifying requirements for a TFR.

And when you're airborne, contact ATC for VFR flight following.

Until the FAA develops a better way for notifying pilots about these TFRs, this is your best bet for avoiding a violation.

FAA

What do you think? Have you ever had to change your route for a stadium TFR? Tell us in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and commercial pilot for Mokulele Airlines. In addition to multi-engine and instrument ratings, he holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525). He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures at http://www.swaynemartin.com.

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