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Schedulers: Flight Planning Around TFRs

Schedulers and dispatchers facing possible disruptions due to FAA temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) have several planning resources at their disposal that may help with workarounds.

As a reminder, TFRs are issued to protect people and property by barring certain aircraft from operating within a defined airspace. They’re disseminated through the notice to air missions (NOTAMs) system so operators can adjust their trip planning. Obviously, it’s a good idea for schedulers and dispatchers to stay current with the latest NOTAMs and to communicate effectively with the pilots and ground crew.

Kayla Mickler, a corporate aviation dispatch manager for Dow Chemical Company, says there is a myriad of tools schedulers and dispatchers can use. “We are subscribers of the NBAA Air Traffic Services, which provides us with known TFRs as early as possible and allows us to begin planning around the times and determining alternative airport locations we may need to consider.” Once her team becomes aware of a TFR that might affect the scope of their flights, Mickler says “we review NOTAMs with the crew and our scheduling team reaches out to the fixed base operator for further details concerning the restrictions in place, piecing together the information as it affects our flight.”

POTUS TFRs

Dean Snell, NBAA’s manager of air traffic services, notes that NBAA hosts a VIP TFR web tool that gives operators useful details about TFRs related to the president of the United States (POTUS), or the vice president (VPOTUS). POTUS TFRs typically consist of a 30- to 32-nautical mile outer ring and a 10- to 12-nautical mile inner ring with certain restrictions for general aviation operations unless gateway screening procedures are in place. Snell says operators that need to depart or land at an airport that intersects with the outer circles of the TFR must be “operating on an approved flight plan, the pilot must be in constant communication with ATC, and the aircraft must be squawking an ATC assigned discrete transponder code.”

Sometimes a POTUS TFR area can change locations in real time as the president moves, which has the potential of disrupting flight-plan operations altogether. To prepare for this possibility, operators should be prepared to adjust their flight plans and routes on short notice, if necessary.

“We always check to see if any gateway airports are available and work to obtain a waiver, when possible, to allow us more access to transit the TFR,” Mickler says. “When these options are unavailable, we check into the alternative airport options in the outer ring that would permit us greater flexibility if POTUS travel timings were to change the day of operation.”

SkyPlan Dispatch Supervisor Jonathan Atkinson says, “one of the most useful tools a pilot can have is the FAA TFR Map visualization tool. Selecting an ATC Center allows you to view all the currently published TFRs for that center, along with the exact location, altitude dimensions, validity periods, exemptions, and contact numbers for the individual or facility tasked with coordination of flights which may pass through the TFR.”

Bottom line: Although TFRs can interrupt regular operations, operators can mitigate disruptions by planning ahead, remaining flexible, considering available resources and communicating with stakeholders such as ATC, pilots and passengers.

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