July 17, 2012

VIP temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) are popping up with increasing frequency as the political campaigns heat up in advance of Election Day. To help all aviators keep track of these restrictions, NBAA has created a dedicated Twitter account, @NBAA_ATS, to provide updates as needed, said John Kosak, an NBAA air traffic management specialist.

Kosak works for NBAA Air Traffic Services (ATS), one of three non-FAA organizations with staff based at the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center, where TFRs are issued. Depending on the NOTAM’s complexity, ATS can tweet the creation of a new TFR in 10 to 20 minutes, Kosak said. The Twitter page is dedicated to TFR announcements and also the landfall of hurricanes, giving followers clutter-free notices of these hazards on their phones and computers.

NBAA’s TFR Twitter posts can help pilots avoid unnecessary infractions. “For a single, inadvertent, first-time operation within a restricted or prohibited area,” an FAA Flight Standards Service memo sanctions, in most circumstances, “a 30- to 90-day certificate suspension.”

Compared to the average vice presidential TFR, presidential TFRs can be exceedingly complex, noted Kosak, especially when the president arrives at an airport, goes off site and then returns later to depart. “Technically, we have three different areas of interest, and you can have different airports impacted. [The president] just did a bus tour, and that took significantly longer because we have to go through all the maps and look at it, decipher it and then put the summary together.”

There’s no way to convey all necessary TFR information in a Twitter post’s 140 characters, said Kosak, who was instrumental in launching the new NBAA ATS Twitter account in June. “It’s just one more opportunity to serve not only NBAA Members, but anyone interested in following @NBAA_ATS,” he said.

The tweet is part of ATS’s triple-check process, Kosak explained. First the ATS staffers, who are on duty seven days a week between 6:30 a.m. and 10 p.m., with reduced hours on weekends, go through the TFR with a fine-tooth comb “and translate the all-caps ‘NOTAM-speak’ into English anyone can read.”

Next, ATS creates the email that goes to subscribers of NBAA Airspace Alerts. Available only to NBAA Members, this Air Mail subscription covers all airspace issues that significantly impact their flight operations. The subject line of this email, which follows a standard format – city, state, 91.141 TFR NOTAM for date – then goes out on Twitter, Kosak said.

The Twitter post’s body is a link to NBAA’s VIP TFR NOTAM page, which copies all the details presented in the body of the Airspace Alert message and includes a link to the FAA Graphic TFR page.