Summer is nearly upon us, bringing with it good weather for flying your unmanned aircraft. Summer also brings, however, an increase in certain types of natural disasters, such as wildfires, hurricanes, and storms that produce flooding, which in turn bring Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) from the FAA. So, in the interests of helping everyone have a safe and productive summer, Plane-ly Spoken feels it is important to brush up on the subject of TFRs.
What is a TFR? The FAA defines a TFR as:
A type of Notice to Airmen (NOTAM). A TFR defines an area restricted to air travel due to a hazardous condition, a special event, or a general warning for the entire FAA airspace. The text of the actual TFR contains the fine points of the restriction.
While the FAA has a great deal of discretion in issuing a TFR, the regulations only permit it under certain circumstances. In the case of a natural disaster, the FAA must make a finding that the TFR is necessary to:
- Protect persons and property on the surface or in the air from a hazard associated with an incident on the surface;
- Provide a safe environment for the operation of disaster relief aircraft; or
- Prevent an unsafe congestion of sightseeing and other aircraft above an incident or event which may generate a high degree of public interest.
The regulations also allow the FAA to delegate the responsibility for determining who should be permitted to fly in the area, and under what restrictions, to the official in charge of on-scene emergency response activities. For example, at the time this article is being written, a TFR has been issued for an area within 2 miles of Kilauea volcano because of the unexpected earthquakes and eruptions. The TFR states:
No pilots may operate an aircraft in the areas covered by this NOTAM (except as described).
ONLY RELIEF AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS UNDER DIRECTION OF NATIONAL PARK SERVICE ARE AUTHORIZED IN THE AIRSPACE
In order to facilitate operations, the TFR will always contain contact information for the persons in charge of the airspace, which, in the case of the Kilauea volcano, is the National Park Service.
It is relatively easy to find out if there is a TFR in place that affects your flight. There are a number of apps available, and the FAA maintains a robust website that allows you to sort through the TFRs efficiently. However, given that these types of hazards can arise without warning, the FAA advises that all operators call their local Flight Service Station at 1-800-WX-BRIEF before flying.
As we can see, just because a disaster occurs, flight operations do not come to a halt. Both manned and unmanned aircraft are needed to aid in the response and recovery effort. How does an operator who has something valuable to offer first responders, position himself or herself to take advantage of this opportunity?