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A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is a restriction on an area of airspace due to the movement of government VIPs, special events, natural disasters, or other unusual events. On any given day, there are typically several TFRs in place across the National Airspace System (NAS). Most non-VIP TFRs are small in scope, in non-critical locations, or allow for some aspect of general aviation to operate within them, albeit with some restrictions.
However, some TFRs do have a significant restrictive impact on general and business aviation. The most common of these are VIP TFRs, which are issued in association with the movements of the President and the Vice President. Not quite as common are special event TFRs, such as those established each year in association with the Super Bowl or the UN General Assembly.
The dimensions, timing, and level of restriction for each TFR vary. For VIP TFR’s, these determinations are made by the United States Secret Service (USSS), in coordination with FAA Security. Once finalized, TFR information is typically distributed via Flight Data Center (FDC) Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) in advance of the event.
For additional information about the types of TFR, review the information below:
There are two basic types of VIP TFRs:
- Presidential, reserved for use in association with Presidential movement,
- Vice-Presidential, used for Vice Presidential movement or movement by other lower-ranking government officials.
These TFRs are governed by FAR 91.141 and are generally not made available to the public until two or three days before the event.
VIP TFRs are normally set up as one or more rings of airspace, surrounding the VIP, which become active for a specific amount of time. The normal arrangement is to have one ring covering the VIP’s arrival and departure location(s) and another covering the area where the VIP will be between arrival and departure. While these rings are stationary, there are occasions where “rolling” TFRs are created to accommodate a moving event (such as one involving a train or bus).
Presidential VIP TFRs
In the case of Presidential movement, the TFR is usually comprised of an outer ring (usually 30 nautical miles, but sometimes slightly more or less) and one or more inner rings (usually 10 nautical miles, but sometimes 8, 9, or 10 nautical miles). The dimensions and, even the shape, of the rings are sometimes altered to suit specific needs. For example, some TFRs are structured so that the outer ring consists of the lateral limits of a particular airport’s Class B airspace, or are created with cut-outs, as noted later in this resource.
The inner ring(s) constitute the most significant challenge to general and business aviation, since they are almost always inaccessible to general aviation aircraft. This is primarily due to the fact that general aviation aircraft are not subject to TSA passenger and aircraft screening.
The result is that GA aircraft cannot fly through these areas below 18,000 feet and any airports within these areas are unavailable to GA aircraft during the specified times. In addition, these “no fly” areas may result in required reroutes being issued to move aircraft away from them.
There are occasional exceptions that will allow certain GA aircraft to penetrate the inner ring(s). In some cases, the USSS will agree to set up “gateway” airports, at which GA aircraft can be screened before proceeding into the TFR. In other cases, GA aircraft are permitted into the inner ring(s) only after obtaining TSA waivers, sometime used in combination with gateway airports. However, these exceptions are relatively rare and are normally made for TFRs that impact multiple airports for several days.
On other occasions, a TFR might be structured with a “cut-out” to allow operations into an airport that lies just inside the inner ring. This happens quite often for Teterboro Airport (TEB) when TFRs are placed over the New York City area. In these cases operators need to be aware that certain approaches and departures may not be available for the airport in the cut-out.
The outer ring(s) are much less problematic for general and business aviation. Between this outer limit and the inner ring(s), GA aircraft are permitted as long as they are on IFR flight plans and in communication with air traffic control. However, aircraft cannot loiter in this airspace and certain other types of activities, such as flight training, practice approaches, and sightseeing flights, are not permitted within this area.
Vice-Presidential VIP TFRs
In the case of Vice Presidential movement, TFRs normally consist of one or more 3 nautical mile rings and no outer ring. These TFRs are less restrictive for GA aircraft, allowing access to aircraft that are on IFR flight plans and in communication with ATC – restrictions very similar to those in the outer rings discussed above.
However, when an airport is contained within a Vice-Presidential TFR, airport operations are typically halted for a short period of time while the VIP is at the airport or is departing or arriving. As a result, operators flying into an airport sitting under a 3 nautical mile ring can expect minor delays during the TFR’s active times.
Special Event TFRs
Large-scale and high profile special events, such as the Super Bowl and political conventions, will also often require the use of TFRs. These TFRs are, in many ways, similar to VIP TFRs, but they are governed under a different set of regulations – FAR 99.7. Normally, an inner ring/outer ring arrangement, similar to a Presidential TFR, is utilized to secure an area around the event.
One key difference between these TFRs and VIP TFRs is that special event TFRs are generally released much further in advance – sometimes as much as two weeks ahead of the event.
Other Relevent Information About TFRs
One item that confuses many operators is that, occasionally, more than one NOTAM is issued for the same TFR. The reason for this is that some TFRs lie close to the boundary between two en route centers. When this happens, each center will release an identical NOTAM for the TFR. So, as an example, a TFR in Indianapolis might generate two identical NOTAMs –one issued by Chicago Center (ZAU) and another by Indianapolis Center (ZID).
It is also important to note that airports lying just outside the boundary of an inner ring may still be impacted by the TFR. For example, if traffic needs to depart to the north from a particular airport, and a 10 nautical mile ring sits 2 miles north of that airport, traffic will not be permitted to depart, since it would put them on a direct course into the TFR.
In other instances, a missed approach procedure for an airport just outside an inner ring may place an aircraft into that ring. It should be noted that, while ATC will usually advise the flight crew that this is about to occur, some ATC facilities may not be familiar with the impact that the TFR has on general aviation aircraft. As a result, pilots should always remain vigilant whenever operating in the vicinity of a TFR’s inner rings.
With regard to TFR times, flight planners and flight crews should be aware that, while specific times are provided for each TFR, VIP TFRs can either be cancelled early or be extended later, with little or no notice, based on the actual movements of the VIPs. If an operator is planning to arrive at an airport shortly after a TFR there is scheduled to end, they should plan for possible airborne holding, or a diversion, in the event that the TFR is extended.
Where to Find TFR Information
The official sources for TFR information are the FAA’s Graphic TFR web page and the FDC NOTAMs. Both will provide information regarding what TFRs are scheduled or are in effect.
However, since TFR NOTAMs can be difficult to decipher, NBAA provides, as a service to its Members, notification of VIP (and certain special event) TFRs, along with associated impact statements.
When a VIP TFR is issued, Air Traffic Management Specialists with NBAA Air Traffic Services compile a synopsis of the TFR’s details, highlighting
- The type and dimensions of the TFR
- The times during which the TFR is in effect
- What specific airports (if any) are impacted by the TFR and at what times
- Any additional guidance as needed
The NBAA notifications and impact statements are available using one of two methods: