With good reason, there has been a lot of attention focused on increasing pilot awareness of security-related Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR). As the fire season approaches, though, it is also important for pilots to be aware of TFRs established in the vicinity of wildfires. As outlined in Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) section 91.137, which provides for TFRs “in the vicinity of disaster/ hazard areas, the FAA may issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) establishing such restrictions in order to:
- Protect persons and property on the surface or in the air from a hazard associated with an incident on the surface (e.g., a wildfire);
- Provide a safe environment for the operation of disaster relief aircraft (e.g., firefighting aircraft); or
- Prevent unsafe congestion of sightseeing and other aircraft above an area that may generate a high degree of public interest.
As you know, regulations (14 CFR section 91.103) require you to become familiar with “all available information” concerning a flight you intend to operate. So how do you learn about fire zone TFRs? Of course, you should be sure to ask for any and all TFR information when you contact Flight Service or access Direct User Access Terminal System (DUATS) for your official preflight briefing. Thanks to the Internet, though, there are now several additional resources – including graphical TFRs – that you can use to supplement and better understand the information you receive by phone or computer briefing. Let’s take a look.
FAA Web Site TFR Page. TFRs must be very precisely delineated and described in the NOTAM. Ironically, however, the high level of detail needed for precise text can make it very difficult for pilots to “see” and understand the location of the affected area. For this reason, the FAA created a TFR Web site that allows pilots to read the dimensions in both “plain English” and the original NOTAM text and, most importantly, to see the TFR depicted on a chart. As the site clearly states, remember that depicted TFR data may not be a complete listing and that you should call your local Flight Service Station at 1-800-WX-BRIEF for the most recent information.
National Interagency Airspace Information Web Site. A second resource is the National Interagency Airspace Information Web site (NIAIW). Developed and operated by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Interagency Airspace Information Web site includes the National Parks Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The goal of this Web site is to give all aviation users – both pilots and firefighters – easy online access to interactive aviation charts that show TFRs are issued because of the low-level, dense operations of aircraft in a fire zone. As with the FAA’s TFR Web site, the NIAIW stresses that pilots must check the text based NOTAMs for the most current and accurate information. Its stated goal, however, is to offer graphical TFR updates within 30 minutes of their being issued during business hours (Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mountain) and twice daily during fire season (7 a.m. and 1 p.m. Mountain) on weekends and holidays. The site updates NOTAM text every 12 minutes. In addition to providing access to graphical and text information on TFRs related to firefighting operations, the NIAIW site also displays security related TFRs (in red); stadium TFRs (in green); laser light activity NOTAMs (in purple); and TFRs related to nuclear sites (with a black and yellow icon). Clicking on each symbol brings up additional details about the affected area. Additional features include flight planning, airspace management tools (for members who have login access to post information on the site); fire maps; contacts; and links.
Check it out, and don’t forget to report a fire if you spot one. (FAA Aviation News MayJun 2007)